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Arrogant Dolphins lose $4.8 million bet on stadium rehab effort

The Miami Dolphins gambled big — and lost — that they could rush a complicated political effort to get public funding for their private stadium renovation.

Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford killed the team's proposal last Friday – before Miami-Dade County voters could have their say with a May 14 referendum. The team's failed bid means Sun Life Stadium won't get $379 million from state and local coffers that the team sought over 30 years.

Dolphins owner Stephen Ross also lost nearly $4.8 million in cold hard cash.

That's the nonrefundable amount the team had to put up to cover the cost of the special election.

Oops. And so it goes for a hapless team that lately seems more eager to host big games than play in them. The Dolphins haven't won a Super Bowl in nearly 40 years, since Nixon was president.

I'm glad about the final result (since I think it's terrible public policy to give corporate welfare to wealthy sports teams), but I'm not especially happy about how it went down.

Basically it was a triumph of Tallahassee dictatorship over democracy, since it all came down to one man's wishes — the House Speaker. Weatherford refused to bring the bill to the floor. The Dolphins say they had enough House votes for approval.

Weatherford probably didn't want to go down as the speaker who denied health care to 1 million poor Floridians with his opposition to Obamacare/Medicaid expansion while simultaneously greasing a $379 million handout to a billionaire NFL owner — $90 million in state sales tax rebates, and $289 million through increased Miami-Dade bed taxes.

I say it would have been better if the Dolphins' request got sunk fair and square — either through a full House vote or by Miami-Dade voters. But this is the right outcome, especially since the Dolphins went about this in such a hasty and ham-handed way since January.

That "opportunity fair" touting "prospective jobs" at the stadium last week was especially cynical and shameless, a ploy to get votes but also symbolic of a team putting the cart way before the horse.

Originally, the team said it would shoulder 70 percent of the costs of the proposed $385 million renovation. Now team officials say they're not interested in using any of their own money for a scaled-back renovation.

On Sunday, Dolphins CEO Mike Dee told CBS-4's Jim DeFede that Ross didn't realize what terrible shape the stadium was in when he bought the team few years ago. Then shame on Ross for poor due diligence.

Dee might be overstating how bad things are. The stadium performed fine for the college football national championship game in January. If the Super Bowl doesn't return, the NFL will miss South Florida in February more than we'll miss it.

All along, team officials kept saying how the team "needs" public money to do the upgrades and how the stadium "needs" improvements to keep landing big events.

The correct word was "wants."

Give Weatherford credit for one thing: He understood the difference.

mmayo@tribune.com or 954-356-4508

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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