TALLAHASSEE -- The Miami Dolphins have given a full embrace to a Senate plan that would help the team renovate its stadium, even as a much different House plan has stalled in the committee process.
The bill, SB 306, cleared its final committee Thursday and heads to the floor next. It would require the Dolphins to compete with other sports teams for a state tax break of up to $3 million per year. Teams would battle for a pot of $13 million in tax breaks and would be ranked based on potential economic impact.
The House version of the bill does not include those provisions and has stalled for the last two weeks. The chair of the House Budget committee has no plans to hear it anytime soon. If the House decides to spike the bill, the Dolphins’ efforts at a taxpayer-supported stadium upgrade could die in Tallahassee.
Though the Senate version has additional stipulations that are not in the House bill (which offers a specific tax break for the Dolphins), the team has supported the bill that’s currently moving through the higher chamber.
“We’re appreciative of the efforts that continue to move this forward,” said Dolphins CEO Mike Dee, who has traveled to Tallahassee for each of the bill’s seven committee stops in the Legislature.
While requiring competition for state tax breaks, the Senate bill still offers a carve out for Miami-Dade to raise its mainland tourist tax, potentially bringing in tens of millions of dollars for the team to rebuild its stadium. The tourist tax dollars could help the team generate up to $289 million, while the state tax break could bring in $3 million annually for several years, according to an agreement with the county. The team’s stadium renovation could cost more than $350 million and the Dolphins have agreed to pay back some of the tax dollars used for the project.
Still, it’s not clear where things stand in the House, where there is substantial opposition to the deal. It has cleared two committees, but has to pass the Budget Committee to complete the committee process. There are about two weeks left in session. House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, has indicated there was plenty of time.
Weatherford did not tip his hand about giving tax breaks to sports teams, or whether he prefers the House approach (separate bills for each sports teams) or the Senate’s all-encompassing approach.
“There’s been rumors about the Senate having kind of a package [plan],” he said Wednesday. “We haven’t seen that yet. They haven’t brought it to the floor. We’ll probably wait and see what the Senate does.”
The Senate indicated that the ball would be in the House’s court.
Sen. Andy Gardiner, D-Orlando, who came up with the competition approach, said any team looking for a tax break shouldn’t come to the Senate.
“Go talk to the House,” he said, adding that his approach helped create a streamlined system for tax breaks.
Bill sponsor Sen. Oscar Braynon, D-Miami Gardens, agreed, saying the amendment would take some of the politics out of the sports stadium deals.
“It turns it into something a little more than who has the best lobbyist,” he said.
The House sponsor, Rep. Eddy Gonzalez, R-Hialeah, said he is reluctant to wrap other sports teams into his bill. Disagreement between two bill sponsors about how a bill should be structured is not a good sign, especially in week seven of a nine-week session. Also, opponents like auto magnate Norman Braman and Americans for Prosperity are focusing their efforts on killing the bill in the House.
Even with the potential roadblocks, Dee said he remains confident.
He said he believed the two sides would come together in the last two weeks of the session, that the local referendum would pass on May 14 and that the National Football League would have good news a week later when team owners meet to decide whether Miami will get Super Bowl 50 or 51.
And, if not?
“We haven’t thought about that,” said Dee. “Like a sports team, we don’t think about losing. We think about prevailing and moving forward.”
Toluse Olorunnipa can be reached at tolorunnipa@MiamiHerald.com