Fla. may change how sports teams get help

Florida may change how sports teams get help from state taxpayers

Associated Press

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) -- Florida may soon force its football teams, baseball teams, racetracks and even spring training teams to compete against each other.

Responding to a push by professional sports franchises seeking help this year from taxpayers, the Florida Senate wants to create a new process where the state ranks each request before they get any money.

It would apply to pro teams seeking aid this year, including the NFL's Miami Dolphins and Jacksonville Jaguars as well as requests from Daytona International Speedway and Orlando to lure a Major League Soccer franchise.

"I think it's better that we look at these sports facility issues as economic development issues because that's the way they are being sold," Senate President Don Gaetz said. "All the teams and all the owners who have come to my office have tried to sell their initiatives on the basis of jobs created."

For the past two decades, Florida taxpayers have paid out close to $300 million for repairs, renovations and the construction of stadiums and arenas for professional football, hockey, baseball and basketball teams. The state also has shelled out money to spruce up ballparks used by Major League Baseball teams for spring training.

With the state's economy finally on the rebound there are several proposals this year to extend even more financial assistance. The one that has gotten the most attention is a bill that would help the Miami Dolphins get state and local tax dollars to help renovate Sun Life Stadium. The Dolphins are seeking $3 million a year for the next 30 years as part of a package to help pay for nearly $400 million worth of improvements.

Backers contend it could yield positive economic improvements because it would help South Florida lure a Super Bowl to the region. But some critics have derided the legislation (SB 306) as "corporate welfare."

The new Senate proposal, which was attached to the Dolphins bill on Tuesday, would require the Department of Economic Opportunity to annually evaluate requests from best to worst. Those applications would be judged on a handful of criteria, including how many Florida workers would be used.

That list would then be sent to the Florida Legislature for a final vote. The state would set a cap of $15 million a year to spend.

"This is really about not just what's here today but two years, three years, four years down the road," said Sen. Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando and the sponsor of the proposal. " ... It takes a little bit of the politics out of it."

The legislation could find favor with Gov. Rick Scott because it also requires the state to re-evaluate payments every five years.

House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, joked that the Senate approach could be called the "leave no franchise behind" bill but he said he was in favor of the idea of trying to rank the proposals. Weatherford, however, did say that he's not sure whether legislators are willing to set aside as much as $15 million a year for professional sports incentives.

The bill also would give Sun Life Stadium a chance to get state support this year as part of an effort to attract a Super Bowl to South Florida. The legislation would allow the Legislative Budget Commission to approve money before 2014 if the money is being used to help lure a "signature event" to the stadium.

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