PolitiFact Florida

Sorting out tax breaks for David Beckham’s Miami soccer stadium


PolitiFact Florida found that an ad claiming state lawmakers gave a tax deal to David Beckham’s project was mostly true but left out some caveats.

PolitiFact Florida

The statement: David Beckham’s soccer stadium would get a “special tax deal that lets them off the hook for $2 million in taxes every year for 30 years.” Miami Seaport Alliance on Wednesday, May 14, 2014, in a TV ad.

The ruling: The ad correctly cites the numbers, though it omits some caveats: Beckham could get at least $2 million every year for 30 years, in the form of a sales tax subsidy. But it’s not an automatic slam dunk since Beckham would have to apply for it.

We rate this claim: Mostly True.

Politifact Florida is a partnership between the Tampa Bay Times and the Miami Herald to check out truth in politics.

PolitiFact Florida

“Tax deal” and “stadium” are fighting words if you put them in the same sentence in Miami-Dade County.

Taxpayers were so angry over the public financing that paid for most of the Miami Marlins ballpark — which failed to produce big crowds or revitalize the surrounding area — that they recalled County Mayor Carlos Alvarez and Commissioner Natacha Seijas.

Now, opponents of David Beckham’s proposed soccer stadium at PortMiami are trying to tap into voters’ distaste for tax breaks in a TV ad that shows concerned-looking couples paying bills:

“Why won’t the out-of-town port stadium developers tell us about the special tax deal that lets them off the hook for $2 million in taxes every year for 30 years? You think you could not pay taxes for 30 years? Now we find out it’s Miami-Dade families who have to pay taxes to help give them parking garages.”

The music then turns sinister as a photo of the boogeyman in Miami sports — Marlins Park — appears on the screen.

“Remind you of anything?” the narrator asks. “Miami deserves better.”

The ad is paid for by the Miami Seaport Alliance, led by Royal Caribbean Cruises, which fought against the stadium’s proposed site at the port close to the cruise line’s headquarters.

PolitiFact Florida previously fact-checked an alliance ad that the port stadium proposal “threatens the 207,000 jobs and $27 billion economic impact tied to the cargo and cruise industries” and rated it False.

Here, we will fact-check the statement that Beckham will be “off the hook for $2 million in taxes every year for 30 years.”

The ad ran on TV in mid-May, days before Beckham announced that he would drop the port site in favor of another site downtown. The tax deal that the ad mentioned still exists regardless of the site, however.

The site now favored by Beckham would involve filling in a boat slip along Biscayne Bay downtown. The county and the city of Miami both own portions of the site, making the deal complicated.

The Miami Herald reported that a possible agreement could involve the stadium’s not paying property taxes but making an annual payment in lieu of taxes to the city and rent to the county. This boat-slip site has its detractors, including environmental activists and those who oppose building along the shoreline.

The ad does not explain what type of “tax deal” Beckham is seeking. The answer: Beckham says he will privately finance construction of a stadium but plans to apply for a state sales tax subsidy. This spring, he worked the halls of Tallahassee, posing with legislators taking selfies as he lobbied for the deal.

The TV ad pointed viewers to House Bill 7095, which the Legislature approved by wide margins in May. Gov. Rick Scott has said he plans to sign the bill, which adds soccer to the types of sports franchises that can compete for sales tax rebates for construction projects.

Here’s how it works: When fans buy certain items at the stadium — such as T-shirts or food — they pay a sales tax. That amount is 7 percent, which includes a 1 percent add-on for Miami-Dade.

Typically, a little less than 90 percent of sales-tax proceeds are distributed to the state general-revenue fund and can go toward everything from fixing roads to paying teachers or prison guards. Most of the rest is shared with counties and cities, which can also use them for their general expenses.

But under the bill, sports facilities, including the Miami soccer stadium, would get a rebate of 75 percent of the sales taxes from the new development.

And the bill speeds up the process for Beckham’s stadium in Miami, as well as an Orlando soccer stadium and the Daytona International Speedway. The three projects could share in about $7 million in tax breaks next year, according to the Miami Herald.

Beginning in 2015-16, a total of $13 million would be available to multiple sports franchises, including soccer, football and NASCAR.

The amount of potential annual subsidies escalates based on the size of the investment — construction projects of more than $200 million could get up to $3 million a year for 30 years, while projects in the $100 million to $200 million range could get $2 million a year.

The stadium at the port was estimated to cost $250 million, including additional infrastructure costs; the cost of the downtown slip site was not immediately clear.

The state Department of Economic Opportunity would rank the proposals from sports franchises, but the Legislature would make the final call. Teams would be forced to return the money if they generated less sales-tax revenues than anticipated or left the state.

We sent the ad to spokespersons for Miami Beckham United, who did not dispute the amount of the tax subsidy cited in the ad.

“These funds are considered a sales-tax rebate for spending generated by stadium activity that would otherwise not occur, such as fans buying a hot dog at the game, a T-shirt at the team store or a meal at a stadium restaurant,” said John Alschuler, strategic advisor to Miami Beckham United.

We also sent the ad’s statement about the special tax break to Kurt Wenner, vice president of tax research at Florida TaxWatch, a business-backed organization that takes a critical look at state taxes and spending.

“As is often the case with these things, it’s a matter of semantics. It is not a tax break. It does not let anyone off the hook for taxes,” Wenner told PolitiFact Florida.

Sales taxes are still collected on sales at the stadium, but the owners get a subsidy of 75 percent of the additional sales tax collected due to the project. “So it is not a tax break, but the result is basically the same — recipients will get up to $3 million annually of taxpayer money.”

Our ruling

The alliance’s ad says Beckham’s soccer stadium would get a “special tax deal that lets them off the hook for $2 million in taxes every year for 30 years.”

The ad correctly cites the numbers, though it omits some caveats: Beckham could get at least $2 million every year for 30 years in the form of a sales-tax subsidy. But it’s not a slam dunk, since Beckham would have to apply for it. Though Beckham’s star power certainly influenced legislators to add soccer to the list of eligible franchises, it’s not a “special tax deal” exclusively for Beckham’s project.

The main point of this statement is largely correct: Beckham is poised to get at least $2 million a year in rebates from the sales tax.

We rate this claim Mostly True.

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