For Dolphins, third and long and out of time-outs

Time is running out for the Dolphins. Seven weeks from today, NFL owners will select the sites for Super Bowls 50 and 51— or L and LI as the NFL pretentiously likes to label them — and the Dolphins may not be in the running for either game. Not without passage of a special carve-out bill in Tallahassee, raising the hotel bed tax in mainland Miami-Dade, approval of the deal by county voters and an iron-clad guarantee that Sun Life will be modernized. Whew!

There’s a committee hearing scheduled in the Florida House Wednesday on the stadium financing bill, but it’s moving at a glacial pace through the Legislature, and the Miami-Dade delegation is split on the issue. Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez and the Dolphins chief negotiator, Mike Dee, haven’t met face to face in almost two weeks.

It gets worse. There’s no decision from the state Elections Department on the legality of the team paying for a special election. And no election date will be set until the mayor is satisfied that the deal is “risk free.” At which point at least seven commissioners would have to approve the deal and call a special election. Commissioners love the Dolphins, but they also remember the recall election in 2011 that dumped then-mayor Carlos Alvarez and Commissioner Natacha Seijas because of the stinky Marlins stadium deal.

That deal is the biggest obstacle for the Dolphins getting any tourist bed tax money for Sun Life. Miami-Dade voters are still justifiably angry about how their political “leaders” got snookered on Marlins Stadium. It certainly doesn’t help the Dolphins that voters will be reminded of it daily as the Marlins begin a new season at their first-rate stadium with a cut-rate team. Fans are so turned off that opening-day tickets have been discounted on Groupon.

The Dolphins keep saying, plaintively, that they’re different from the Marlins. But it’s already third and long, and the Fins don’t have any time outs. But they have been skillful in recent weeks at calling audibles, to milk the sports metaphors. Every time Norman Braman or a media type raised a new argument against using tourist tax money for Sun Life, the Dolphins came up with a concession.

Examples: The Dolphins don’t get either Super Bowl 50 or 51? Then keep your money, Miami-Dade. Spending $3 million to $5 million on a special election costs too much? Don’t worry, say the Dolphins, we’ll pay for it if it’s legal. The $3-million-a-year sales tax rebate from the state is a burden? Don’t worry, we’ll pay it back, at least the principal. The $120 million in tourist bed tax dollars to be collected by Miami-Dade? Sure, the Dolphins say, we’ll pay that back, too, in 30 years.

I think we’ll find out in time that all Dolphins’ concessions are responses to demands made privately by Mayor Gimenez, who has been quietly discreet during the negotiations. It’s the Dolphins who have gone public, seeing that shifting public opinion to their side is their only hope for voter approval.

Give them this: The Dolphins are trying every which way they can to answer their critics and to get an acceptable deal. But they’ve also made mistakes. Personal attacks on Braman, calling him “irrelevant” and a “hypocrite”? Please, Braman earned his good-citizen bona fides decades ago. He and his wife have given tens of millions to charity. After the Marlins stadium deal survived Braman’s court challenge, polls showed most Miami-Dade voters respected his opposition.

The question the Dolphins still have not answered is the most basic one: Why doesn’t team and stadium owner Stephen Ross pay for the upgrades himself? Forbes says he’s worth $4.4 billion, so it’s not as if he can’t afford it. So why doesn’t he pay? He hasn’t answered that question directly, and until he does I suspect that voters — if it ever comes to a vote — will never approve spending tax dollars for Sun Life.

Jeffrey Loria is a dour, arrogant egotist who at least knew, while the Marlins stadium was percolating, that he shouldn’t be the public face of the ball club. He left that role for his onetime stepson, Marlins president David Samson, a clever, wise-cracking lawyer whose tendency to spout off almost wrecked the baseball stadium deal.

The public face of the Dolphins stadium deal has been Mike Dee, a media-savvy professional sports executive who’s unknown to most people in South Florida. His only misstep was to tell me a few weeks ago that, “Just because somebody is wealthy enough doesn’t mean he should invest money in a way that is unwise.” So Ross doesn’t make “unwise” investments, but taxpayers should?

The only person who can set the record straight on all this is Steve Ross. If he wants close to $200 million in tourist tax money for the stadium, he needs to step forward to explain why. He also needs to tell us why upgrades estimated at $225 million a couple of years ago will now cost close to $400 million. Ross needs to further explain why a Super Bowl, whatever the number, with its astronomical ticket prices and events that exclude everyone but the very wealthy and connected, benefits the entire South Florida community.

Mr. Ross, if nearly $200 million in tax dollars for a pro-profit sports franchise worth close to $1 billion isn’t corporate welfare, what is?

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