The Miami Dolphins underwrote the $4.78 million cost of a referendum on whether the club gets tax money to help retrofit Sun Life Stadium.
But if the Legislature doesn’t approve the deal to steer as much as $379 million to the Dolphins, the May 14 vote in Miami-Dade won’t count.
The Dolphins club will be out of luck. And out of its money.
“The Dolphins never called us and asked: ‘How are we looking before we pay for it [the referendum]?’” said House Speaker Will Weatherford, whose chamber has stalled the legislation.
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Welcome to the NFL in Tallahassee.
If football’s rules are confusing to the uninitiated, Tallahassee’s ways are downright opaque. The House and Senate have seemingly bewildering rules that can require supermajority votes putting already imperiled bills at even greater peril.
And then there are competing agendas and rivalries that further complicate everything.
So the Dolphins bill is in trouble, but still alive?
“Correct,” said Weatherford. But he added: “There’s time.”
Not much any more. As in football, clock-management matters.
The Dolphins say time is of the essence because the NFL is about to decide the next locations for future Super Bowls, and Sun Life would have a better shot at landing the event if the stadium were renovated.
Meantime, the 60-day regular lawmaking session ends Friday. If the legislation doesn’t pass by then, the Dolphins will probably have to wait a year for another shot.
“The last week of session is put up or shut up time,” Weatherford said.
Therein lies another problem for the Dolphins: What could they put up and what will the House say?
Sen. Oscar Braynon, a Miami Gardens Democrat sponsoring a version of the Dolphins legislation, said he just wants a straight answer. He has the votes to pass it in the Senate, he said.
“What does the House want?” Braynon asked. “Give me a signal. Don’t make me negotiate with myself.”
Said Weatherford: “I don’t want anything.”
It’s tough to get an answer out of someone who doesn’t seem to want anything. It’s tough to get a special deal for the Miami Dolphins out of a Florida House concerned about special deals for some sports franchises but not others.
The Senate is far more supportive of the Dolphins plan. A majority of the 40-member chamber has voted on the measure in one form or another as it wound through committee.
Unlike the stalled House bill, the Senate measure is about more than just the Dolphins. It would set up a process in which teams would have to compete for tax breaks. A state agency would rank the best deals.
Weatherford warned about the “complexity” of adding other sports franchises. He also said that he and other House members were concerned with the Senate plan to pay for its stadium bill by eliminating a tax break for banks.
Weatherford, however, likes the competitive bidding process outlined by the Senate bill.
But that specific measure hasn’t been heard in the House. And House rules generally inhibit the introduction of last-minute measures that no representative has voted on previously.
So the Dolphins might need the Senate to quickly pass a stadium bill Monday and send it to the Florida House, where it would have to arrive before the House Rules Committee meets (that happens 15 minutes after the full House adjourns for the day). If the committee likes the measure, it could cast a simple majority vote to make the measure available for a floor vote.
If that doesn’t happen, there’s a strong chance that it would take a two-thirds vote of the House to even hear the Dolphins measure.
A supermajority vote means the Dolphins bill could be killed by just 41 votes in the 120-member House.
The Senate is scheduled to hear the bill Monday, the same day early voting begins.
“We’re in the two-minute drill,” Weatherford said.