LEGISLATURE 2013 |

Time running out for Dolphins stadium bill

 
 
Former Miami Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino visits with lawmakers in Tallahassee on Thursday, May 2, 2013. Here, Marino talks with a reporter in Gov. Rick Scott's office.
Former Miami Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino visits with lawmakers in Tallahassee on Thursday, May 2, 2013. Here, Marino talks with a reporter in Gov. Rick Scott's office.
Scott Keeler / Tampa Bay Times

Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau

It's do or die for the Miami Dolphins stadium renovation effort on Friday.

The team was still throwing late-game Hail Marys in Tallahassee on Thursday, with the team’s push for a taxpayer supported stadium upgrade stuck in limbo just 24 hours before the close of this year’s legislative session.

In a last-minute twist, the Florida Senate amended a mundane “tax administration” bill by adding language related to the Dolphins’ tax plan. Senators then sent the bill to the House, where the Dolphins’ efforts have been stalled for weeks.

Hoping to help move the bill along, Dolphins’ Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino worked the halls of the Capitol on Thursday.

“I’m definitely supporting the whole thing with the stadium,” Marino told the Herald/Times before meeting with Gov. Rick Scott. “I’m a Dolphin for life and a South Floridian for life.”

Marino, who was in Tallahassee to build support for his autism foundation, said that House Speaker Will Weatherford told him the bill had a “good chance” of passing before Friday.

But Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, maintained that the bill faced an “uphill battle,” and stadium deal opponents were already claiming victory Thursday.

Some declared the bill “dead” in the Florida House. “Get the obituary page ready,” said Rep. Michael Bileca, R-Miami.

Bill sponsors Sen. Oscar Braynon, D-Miami Gardens, and Rep. Eddy Gonzalez, R-Hialeah, remained confident after Senators approved the last-minute amendment on a 28-3 vote.

“I think it’s very much alive,” said Gonzalez. “Nothing is dead here until we shut down. And I’ve been here long enough to know that.”

If the bill passes and a referendum vote is approved, the Dolphins could receive up to $289 million in taxpayer support from an increase in the Miami-Dade hotel tax, from 6 to 7 percent. The proposal also offers the team up to $90 million in state sales tax rebates. The bill allows other teams to compete for state tax dollars.

If the bill doesn’t pass Friday, the referendum vote — scheduled for May 14 and already underway via early voting — would be called off.

The team is looking to spend more than $300 million for its stadium upgrade and has agreed to pay much of the tax money back after 30 years.

It is racing against a May 21 deadline set by the NFL, which will decide whether to award the 50th Super Bowl in 2016 to Miami or San Francisco.

The San Jose Mercury News published a story on its website Thursday saying the Bay Area “could all but clinch the prize of hosting the 50th Super Bowl as soon as Friday,” because of “tempestuous Florida politics.”

The Dolphins are hoping an upgraded stadium will also help secure future Super Bowls and national championships at Sun Life stadium. The team agreed to several concessions in its attempts to secure taxpayer support, including giving voters the final say on the deal, and paying $4.7 million for the referendum vote.

The team has also lobbied hard for the bill in Tallahassee, sending top officials to lobby lawmakers.

Marino was just the latest high-profile NFL figure to appear in Tallahassee this week. On Monday, Dolphins owner Stephen Ross, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and team CEO Mike Dee spent hours in the Capitol talking to lawmakers about the Dolphins stadium effort.

"I think it would be great for the community," said Marino, who is an honorary co-chair of the South Florida Super Bowl Bid Committee. "People have got to understand the economic impact it would have on our community.”

The lobbying effort and celebrity push could all be for naught if the bill fails on Friday. With two separate proposals pending in the House, it’s unclear if the bill will need a two-thirds majority of 80 votes to pass, or a simple majority.

And Weatherford continued to express doubts about the proposal, a bad sign for a major bill in final days of session.

Gonzalez said the Dolphins — who have spent millions of dollars trying to build support for the deal — could still win out on Day 60 of the session.” We’re in the fourth quarter, down to the final drive,” he said. “I think the chances are still good. We’ll see tomorrow.”

Toluse Olorunnipa can be reached at tolorunnipat@MiamiHerald.com or on Twitter at @ToluseO.

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