TALLAHASSEE — New public money would be available for privately owned stadiums, including a potential new home for the Tampa Bay Rays, under legislation passed Friday by the Florida Legislature.
The Senate made some last-minute changes to a House bill (HB 7095), which the House then passed 89-27, sending it to Gov. Rick Scott. His office did not indicate whether he’ll sign it.
Teams would apply to the state’s Department of Economic Opportunity for sales tax rebate funding. Public money can be used for “constructing, reconstructing, renovating, or improving a facility or reimbursing such costs,” the bill says.
The Rays don’t hide the fact they would like a new stadium, but team executives have declined to say whether they would ask for money from the state.
A Rays spokesman did not immediately respond Friday to a request for comment.
The idea of using taxpayer money to build or renovate sporting centers continued to upset some lawmakers, who said evidence doesn’t back up claims that sports contribute to economic development.
In debate, Rep. Carlos Trujillo, R-Miami, said he pulled sales tax figures for the last 10 years, comparing years that Florida hosted the Super Bowl to years it didn’t.
“It did not move the needle one bit,” he said. “Revenues were stagnant.”
Trujillo added that the bill “isn’t a process. It’s a handout … to for-profit billion-dollar businesses.”
Piling on, Rep. James Grant, R-Tampa, called the measure a “special interest billionaire subsidy,” and Rep. Mike Bileca, R-Miami, warned that teams will probably bond the money out as soon as they get it.
Bill sponsor Jimmy Patronis, R-Panama City, suggested that the state will never be able to completely shut the door on this kind of tax subsidy.
“We’re making an attempt on fixing something that was going to be a frustration for future legislatures,” he said.
The bill did include language pushed by Miami legislators that might affect a future Rays application.
A provision is friendly to Cuban baseball players who defect from that country, allowing them to enter free agency without going through Major League Baseball’s amateur draft.
The plan bases distributions on 75 percent of the average of new state sales taxes rung up on sales at a stadium. It tiers money available based on project cost:
♦ Projects costing $200 million or more can get up to $3 million a year.
♦ Projects of $100 million-$200 million can get up to $2 million a year.
♦ Projects of $30 million-$100 million can get up to $1 million a year.
Stadiums already receiving public money are eligible for up to $1 million a year. In all cases, funding would last up to 30 years.
Spring-training complexes can get up to $1 million yearly for 20 years for a single team and $2 million a year for 25 years if multiple teams use the stadium.
The planned $400 million renovations to Daytona International Speedway also are eligible.
Teams will be competitively evaluated and ranked, as House Speaker Will Weatherford had insisted to get his support, so that teams don’t get money based on “just who has the best lobbyist,” said Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater.
A number of other proposals died last year, including one that would have funded improvements to the Miami Dolphins stadium that was pushed by Tallahassee lobbyist Ron Book.
Rankings will be based on 13 factors, including whether the new stadium could host a variety of sporting and other events, and what kinds of “signature events” — like Super Bowls, all-star games or racing championships — the facility might attract.
The state already directs up to $2 million a year in sales-tax dollars to each of eight sports centers: Sun Life Stadium in Miami-Dade County, EverBank Field in Jacksonville, BB&T Center in Broward County, American Airlines Arena in Miami, the Amway Center in Orlando, Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, and Raymond James Stadium and the Forum in Tampa.