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Marlins stadium funding gets to 1st base

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I figure the Herald, as well as the bill opponents, are still going to be hard-arse about it. :plain




Posted on Thu, Apr. 28, 2005




Marlins stadium funding gets to 1st base


Hours after the Marlins scored a big victory in the state House, Senate President Tom Lee said they would have a hard time getting the Senate to pass a proposal to help build a new stadium in Miami.



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TALLAHASSEE - The state House of Representatives firmly endorsed a $60 million sales tax subsidy Wednesday to help the Florida Marlins build a ballpark, but Senate President Tom Lee later dubbed the measure a ''long shot'' in his chamber, tossing the team's bid for a Miami stadium into turmoil with little more than a week left in the legislative session.


The House measure, passed 90-26, was rolled into a sweeping proposal that includes millions for four spring training facilities -- including the Baltimore Orioles' facility in Fort Lauderdale -- and $30 million to lure the NASCAR Hall of Fame to Daytona Beach. This should make it tough going in a skeptical Senate that has twice before delivered the death knell to Marlins money.


Miami Mayor Manny Diaz, in the capital to lobby lawmakers, flashed a thumbs-up to legislators on the House floor, including Miami Republican Rep. Marco Rubio, the incoming House speaker who revived the ailing Marlins legislation Tuesday by pulling an end run around the House budget committee chairman who had blocked it.


The proposal, though, faces steep hurdles in the Senate, where Lee has questioned tax breaks for sports teams and senators have been sharply skeptical of claims that a new stadium would boost economic development. Because the Senate version of the Marlins legislation has not been heard by its budget committee, the chamber would have to waive its rules to take up the House legislation -- a situation Lee called "highly unlikely.''


''Right now, there just aren't the votes to pass that bill,'' Lee said.




Lobbyist Ron Book said the lobbying team pushing the measure will redouble its efforts. ''We've obviously got a lot more convincing to do,'' he said.


In the House, opponents criticized legislators for wanting to grant a second sales tax rebate to the baseball team -- former team owner Wayne Huizenga got a rebate in the mid 1990s -- suggesting that players' million-dollar salaries and team owners' earnings make a mockery of the state's largess.


''This bill is actually a reverse Robin Hood,'' said Hollywood Democratic Rep. Eleanor Sobel. "We're actually robbing the poor to give to the rich.''


Miami legislators, though, defended the spending as vital to a poor Miami neighborhood. Under an agreement between Miami-Dade County, the city of Miami and the team, the $420 million stadium would be built near the Orange Bowl in Little Havana. The county, the city and the team would also kick in money for planning and construction.


''It's not a ball park; it's revitalizing the Latin quarter of our county, which we know is starting to blossom,'' said Miami Republican Rep. J.C. Planas.




And Gov. Jeb Bush -- who in 2000 single-handedly sank a Marlins proposal to tax cruise ships to pay for a new stadium -- said he believes the legislation should get a "fair hearing.''


''I'm keeping an open mind,'' Bush said, noting that with support from the county and city, the team has "done everything that people have asked them to do in terms of how to make their case.''


Bush said he wasn't familiar with the details of the legislation, but wasn't opposed to its elements, noting that the price tag for the NASCAR Hall of Fame would be offset by selling NASCAR specialty license tags.


''What the heck, we already have 99'' tags, Bush said. "It'll probably be the No. 1 license plate in the state.''


Rep. Holly Benson, a Pensacola Republican, suggested that South Florida doesn't need the money -- particularly when other areas of the state are still recovering from last year's four hurricanes.


''I can't stand here and vote for stadiums when I still have 30,000 families who can't move back into their homes,'' said Benson, whose district was slammed by Hurricane Ivan.




The Marlins, who won a subsidy a decade ago under Huizenga to retrofit the football stadium where the team now plays, have struck out in previous attempts to secure state cash for a new retractable roof stadium.


The team changed strategy this year, dispatching county and city officials to Tallahassee to argue that the county would own the stadium and the Marlins would be the sole tenant for 81 home games a year.


The team stuck to the game plan Wednesday: Team spokesman P.J. Loyello said the Marlins would have no comment.


The legislation now faces its toughest challenge in the Senate, which killed the legislation in 2001 and let it languish in 2003.


A Senate committee advanced Marlins legislation Tuesday, but the version varies from the House measure. Backers of the legislation suggested the Senate now has no excuses: It has a week to work out a fix.


Echoing Senate concerns, Rep. Fred Brummer, the chair of the House budget committee, said the stadium would only siphon off money that is already being spent on other entertainment venues. And he questioned whether the Marlins would be able to generate the money to pay back the rebate -- $2 million a year over 30 years.


The Marlins say they could generate more than $8 million a year. Brummer said that based on the team's average attendance over the past six years each fan would have to spend at least $103 in taxable sales per game to reach that point.




The subsidies were rolled into a package that started out as a bill to give sales tax rebates to counties with convention centers. The bill now includes the Marlins, NASCAR and $2 million a year to be split among four spring training facilities: for the Baltimore Orioles in Fort Lauderdale, the New York Mets in Port St. Lucie, the Cleveland Indians in Winter Haven and the Cincinnati Reds in Sarasota.


The size of the legislation may make it easier to defeat the proposal, said Sen. Mike Bennett, a Bradenton Republican opposed to it. ''Any legislator who votes for it, I'd like to run against,'' Bennett said.


Herald staff writers Marc Caputo and Gary Fineout contributed to this report.

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The size of the legislation may make it easier to defeat the proposal, said Sen. Mike Bennett, a Bradenton Republican opposed to it. ''Any legislator who votes for it, I'd like to run against,'' Bennett said.


I just sure as hell hope you aren't running again in my district! After the Schiavo reaction you had and now this? You don't listen to your constituents and that will cost you your seat you sack of crap.

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