TALLAHASSEE – The Florida House on Friday passed a plan to force future sports stadium projects to jockey against each other when they come to the Legislature seeking taxpayer subsidies.
The bill, HB 7095, has immediate ramifications for $600 million in stadium construction plans -- the new Major League Soccer stadiums proposed in Orlando and Miami, as well as the already-underway Daytona International Speedway renovations.
Both the House and Senate proposals require stadium tax-subsidies to go through a new competition process for annual sales tax rebates where they apply to the state Department of Economic Opportunity and are evaluated based on their economic impact.
The projects would have to involve at least $100 million in construction, and the Legislature would still have the final say on which projects were approved.
Florida already gives out millions in sales-tax rebates to most of its MLB, NFL, NBA and NHL teams, and virtually every year franchises like the Florida Marlins and Miami Dolphins come to Tallahassee to fight for more tax breaks.
This session, soccer celebrity David Beckham has already been to the Capitol to lobby for the bill on behalf on the investor group he is leading to build the Miami MLS stadium.
Last year, a similar bill which would have also steered new tax subsidies to the Miami Dolphins died on the final day of session when House Speaker Will Weatherford refused to give it a vote.
"Last year, we were bombarded with large, exciting stadium packages that were sensationalized with celebrities ... and promises of a better tomorrow," said House sponsor Jimmy Patronis, R-Panama City.
"We needed something we could sink our teeth into and say 'This is a good investment of taxpayer dollars.'”
A few lawmakers argued the new policy still wouldn't deter lobbyists for Florida's sports teams from peddling pleas for new subsidies every year -- just the hoops they have to go through.
“If we pass this, 2015 will be the First Annual Tax Break Olympics,” said Rep. José Javier Rodríguez, D-Miami.
“We’re setting up a process kind of like what we already have. We’re going to have a front seat at these Olympics.”
But Rep. Dwayne Taylor, D-Daytona Beach, described the measure as an economic generator in his district in the case of the $400 million "Daytona Rising" expansion, which he said only wants "a measly $2 million" in sales tax rebates.
"This is a jobs bill," he said.
The House plan, passed on a 93-16 vote, would allow both MLS expansion franchises, along with Daytona Speedway, rodeos, minor-league baseball, and other sports teams compete for $12 million annually in tax revenues for repairs or construction.
The Senate bill sets aside $13 million annually, and would allow the MLS clubs and Daytona to split $6 million sooner -- in the 2014-15 budget year -- because their projects are already underway or could be breaking ground soon. Instead of the full Legislature, only a budget panel would have to approve them.
The House and Senate have until next Friday to resolve their differences.