Called 'Fiscally Stupid' by Some, House Stadium Bill Steps to the Plate Friday

By: Nancy Smith | Posted: April 25, 2014 3:55 AM
Money Bags

A controversial bill that would create a process to allow sports franchises to apply for sales-tax rebates, with final decisions made by the Legislature and governor, is expected to come before the House for a vote Friday.

HB 7095, unpopular among many taxpayer and conservative groups along its road to the floor vote, would allow professional sports franchises to propose construction or renovation projects valued at $100 million or more. At least half the funding would have to come from private investors.

"Frankly, I'm just grateful Rep. (Matt) Gaetz and Rep. (Jose) Felix Diaz got their amendment on the bill," Grace Escalarios, a Pasco County taxpayer advocate, told Sunshine State News Thursday night. Escalarios spoke against the bill in March, during a committee review. "Hopefully, the amendment will slow down the taxpayer-money giveaway. Handing over the people's hard-earned money to millionaires ... this bill is fiscally stupid."

The amendment stipulates that until Major League Baseball resolves concerns about the treatment of Cuban players -- whom the league ignores as victims of human trafficking, according to amendment sponsors -- its franchises would be ineligible to apply for state rebates. MLB would have to show it is willing to report information to the attorney general about human smuggling and the trafficking of Cuban players.

For now, anyway, the amendment would kill the plans of the Detroit Tigers and Lakeland to upgrade their spring training facilities.

The amendment says Cuban players must be able to come into the league as free agents, just as other foreign players.

"We are not going to give away our taxpayer dollars until this ill is corrected," said amendment cosponsor Diaz, a Miami Republican.

Abby MacIver, representing the conservative political advocacy group Americans for Properity, said her organization is "opposed to subsidizing professional sports teams."

She told the House Economic Affairs Committee and the Miami Herald in March she fears the new program would only encourage more franchises to apply for taxpayer support, when there are already eight in Florida receiving state incentives.

House lawmakers' skepticism over the wisdom of HB 7095 has been rising in recent weeks, particularly in view of the mere $40 million for DCF, an agency at the center of 477 children's deaths in the past 10 years, and nearly half the stadium set-aside -- $16 million -- for professional sports stadiums through the Department of Economic Opportunity and legilative stamp process. The timing, they say, is at the least distasteful.

Escalarios pointed out that sports franchises in Florida "don't exactly prove to residents how beloved they are." She said the echo-plagued Miami Marlins' stadium isn't the only venue with attendance problems. One hockey fan was so appalled at the empty house during a Florida Panthers pre-season game, he tweeted an image of an empty stadium with a suggestion the team move to Quebec. His tweet went viral. Other franchises -- notably the Tampa Bay Rays and Jacksonville Jaguars -- struggle to fill seats.

Attendance matters, says Escalarios. According to language in the bill, "franchises are required to reimburse the state if they fall short" of their incremental sales-tax targets.

Nevertheless, the bill, promoted along the way by Rep. Jimmy Patronis, R-Panama City, remains a favorite of the business community, all state agencies related to tourism, professional sports franchises at the highest level -- especially Major League Soccer -- and Gov. Rick Scott.

Friday's House session begins at 9 a.m.

Reach Nancy Smith at nsmith@sunshinestatenews.com or at 228-282-2423. 

Comments (1)

5:17AM APR 25TH 2014
"Cuban players must be able to come into the league as free agents, just as other foreign players." We have former Fl Supreme Ct Justice Raoul Cantero III representing the Fl Legislature on their redistricting schemes!

We have Carlos Lopez-Cantera one heartbeat away from Governor of Florida!

Well why not? Jeb Bush has been pushing his Cuban agenda for over thirty years now ever since they decided they couldn't force Castro to allow them to return to Cuba - Castro run their Tampa mobster boss Santo Trafficante, Jr. out of Cuba in January 1959 and they have been operating in Florida ever since. Google Miguel Recarey - Santo Trafficante, Jr. and Jeb Bush and see what you get!

It is true birds of a feather flock together and they will flock you every chance they get!

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