Senate panel gives green light to Dolphins bill

03/06/2013 1:52 PM

03/06/2013 1:54 PM

The Miami Dolphins cleared another hurdle Wednesday as a Senate committee unanimously approved the team’s plan to get taxpayer financing to pay half the $400 million cost of upgrading their stadium.

Lawmakers also agreed to to allow Miami-Dade voters to have the final say on whether or not to approve the taxpayer subsidies for the stadium in Miami Gardens. The amendment is part of SB 306.

The referendum could be a tough sell, and potentially a deal killer because a new poll suggests Miami-Dade voters are overwhelmingly opposed to the Dolphins’ proposal. More than 70 percent oppose the proposal and most of those strongly oppose it, according to pollster Dario Moreno, a political science professor at Florida International University. Poll resultsw were obtained by the Miami Herald.

Those supporting the bill brushed the poll aside, saying the team had its own internal polls that showed more favorable results.

“Ultimately, taking this through the referendum was the important piece to us,” said Dolphins CEO Mike Dee, who traveled to Tallahassee to voice support for SB 306. “We want the voters to have a voice, and at the end of the day, the facts will prevail.”

Dolphins spokesperson Marcus Bach-Armas said he questioned the poll’s validity because it came from “Norman Braman’s pollster.” Braman, a staunch opponent of taxpayer financed stadium deals, has campaigned heavily against the bill.

Sen. Oscar Braynon, D-Miami Gardens, who is sponsoring the bill, said he is not concerned about the referendum, and is instead focusing on getting the bill through the Legislature.

“My job is to pass it in the Senate, and that’s what I’m going to do,” he said, adding that there would be ample time to convince the public about the benefits of a new stadium. The bill has cleared its first Senate committee with a unanimous vote.

The amendment allows the referendum to take place before the bill is enacted. That could potentially allow Miami-Dade to set a referendum vote in the spring, ahead of the National Football League’s decision of where the 50th anniversary Super Bowl game will take place. South Florida is being considered, and the Dolphins say a newly renovated stadium could help give the region a leg up.

“This is going to be a great economic boom to my community and to the state of Florida,” said Braynon.

If the plan gets approval from a majority of Miami-Dade voters, many of whom are still stinging from the widely panned Marlins stadium deal, the Dolphins are likely to get a flashy new stadium.

The Dolphins are asking for the mainland hotel tax to increase from 6 percent to 7 percent, as well as up to $90 million in sales tax rebates, paid out over 30 years. The $3 million annual tax break would be in addition to $2 million in annual payments SunLife is already receiving. Altogether, taxpayer money would help fund about half of the costs for the $400 million renovation. Miami-Dade legislators opted against making the stadium bill one of their legislative priorities this year.

Other amendments were also added Wednesday. One increased the minimum stadium renovation cost from $250 million to $300 million. Another amendment targeted the international banking industry, and generated significant discussion. The amendment, not directly related to the crux of the Dolphins debate, would end a current $10 million incentive for international banks.

Miami Herald staff writer Marc Caputo contributed to this story.

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