Sun Life Stadium bill survives tough fight
Florida House panel approves Sun Life Stadium bill despite critics calling it corporate welfare
The Miami Dolphins effort to win state help for stadium renovations is moving in the Florida Legislature but the fight keeps getting harder.
A House panel on Friday became the third legislative committee so far this year to approve a bill that would guarantee $3 million a year in state money for the next 30 years to help pay for stadium upgrades.
But several legislators — including some from Miami-Dade County — voted against the bill.
"The NFL is conning us, vote against this madness," said Rep. Bill Hager, R-Delray Beach.
Dolphins president and chief executive officer Mike Dee issued a statement following the vote, saying: "Today's bipartisan vote in the House Finance and Tax Subcommittee is another step in the right direction for the residents of Miami-Dade, who will have the final say on the future of Super Bowls, BCS Championships and international soccer in Miami.
We now have bipartisan support in both houses of the Legislature, and the support of the County Commission. There is no question now that we have real momentum.
Let me thank the Legislators who supported letting the voters of Miami-Dade have the final say.
From here, we are looking forward to working with the Mayor on an agreement that is fair to all sides. We know the Dolphins will pay a majority of the costs, and that tourists and patrons of the stadium will pay the rest.
Ultimately, the voters will, and they should, have the final say. The referendum is the right idea and, as facts won the day here today, we are confident the facts -- including all the jobs this will mean for Miami-Dade -- will win that vote as well."
Dolphins owner Stephen Ross wants to use state and local dollars to help pay for $400 million worth of renovations to Sun Life Stadium, originally named Joe Robbie Stadium when it opened in 1987.
Dolphins management as well as other South Florida backers contend that the renovations will help the area in an effort to lure the Super Bowl for its 50th anniversary. But the renovations will also benefit the University of Miami Hurricanes and could help the state lure international soccer games.
"There is a lot of economic impact and a lot on the line in respect to the future of tourism," said Dee.
The legislation has been approved by two Senate committees without much debate, although the Senate bill (SB 306) was amended this week to remove a 30-year-old tax break for banks. The change has drawn the opposition of the group that represents Florida banks. But some senators say they won't approve a new business incentive unless they remove other incentives that have outlived their use.
In an effort to sway some critics, the stadium bill has been changed to require a local referendum before local hotel bed taxes from Miami-Dade County can be used to help pay for the renovations.
According to a poll by Dario Moreno, a Florida International University political science professor, 73 percent of Miami-Dade voters oppose the public financing. The poll asked 1,000 "super voters" whether they'd support publicly funding the stadium.
"Well, nothing's done until it's done. I welcome the opportunity to have the voters have a say," said Miami-Dade commissioner Sally Heyman.
Commissioners Audrey Edmonson and Lynda Bell responded to Local 10's emails asking about the poll.
“I don’t believe these decisions should be made solely on the results of polls. The issue of tax breaks for the Sun Life Stadium should be decided directly by the voters at the voting booth and should be out as a referendum on a ballot," said Edmonson.
"“The concept of improving the Dolphins Stadium still has many unanswered questions and a faces a tough road ahead in the Florida Legislature, however, I always believe in deferring to the voter on decisions of this magnitude. Public choice is paramount when making decisions that impact our residents," said Bell.
Commissioners Barbara Jordan, whose district Sun Life Stadium is in, Jean Monestime, Bruno Barreiro, Jose "Pepe" Diaz, Dennis Moss, and Juan Zapata didn't respond to Local 10 for comment.
"We're still going through what it is that they want, things that we could do, things that we may not be able to do and so really there's nothing really to report on," said Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez. "A lot of it right now is fact finding."
But two Miami-Dade legislators on Friday wanted to change the bill further to require Ross to put up more of his own money for the renovations or to return money to taxpayers if the team were sold. Those efforts were defeated.
Norman Braman, a successful auto dealer and former owner of the Philadelphia Eagles, called on legislators to defeat the legislation.
"This is corporate welfare for a billionaire no matter how he calls it," Braman said.