Miami-Dade County

Florida lawmakers pave way for tax breaks for pro sports

David Beckham’s star power may have swayed a few lawmakers to help the former soccer player to build his dream stadium in Miami.

With the clock running out on the legislative session Friday, the Legislature approved a bill that would allow professional sports franchises to compete for sales tax subsidies. The proposal passed with a provision that would benefit three construction projects, including Beckham’s proposed Miami soccer stadium.

The bill has another fan: Gov. Rick Scott.

“This economic development bill creates a process that measures return on investment to help protect Florida’s taxpayers,” spokesman John Tupps said. “Gov. Scott looks forward to signing this legislation.”

It was a relief to the retired soccer superstar, who traveled to Tallahassee to push the measure.

“We appreciate the work done by our government officials and their recognition of the enormous popularity of soccer,” he said in a statement. “Today is not only good for Orlando and Miami, it’s great for all of Florida.”

Lawmakers spent the final day of session last year debating whether to provide state funding for renovations for the Miami Dolphins’ SunLife Stadium. (They declined.)

“Last year, the stadiums were a contentious issue,” said Rep. Jimmy Patronis, R-Pensacola said. “They were not going to go away.”

So this year, Patronis and others insisted on creating a process for doling out facilities dollars.

The bill that won approval from the House and Senate (HB 7095) establishes an expedited process for three new projects: the soccer stadiums proposed for Miami and Orlando, and the renovations for the Daytona International Speedway.

The three could share in $7 million in tax breaks next year. A legislative budget panel would approve the state funding.

Beginning in 2015-16, a total of $13 million would be available to professional football, hockey, basketball and soccer teams, as well as NASCAR events and professional rodeos.

Baseball teams could also compete, but only if Major League Baseball eliminates its requirement that Cuban baseball players establish residency in another country before becoming free agents. Florida lawmakers say the practice has driven numerous Cuban athletes into the hands of human traffickers.

Each team could receive as much as $2 million in annual subsidies for up to 30 years.

The franchises would need to apply for the money. The Department of Economic Opportunity would rank the proposals, 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.

Rep. Michael Bileca, R-Miami, blasted the plan as “corporate welfare for billionaires.”

Rep. Charles Van Zant, R-Keystone Heights, was particularly bothered by the provision for new projects, saying it was added “because [lawmakers] already have intentions for spending that money.”

But Rep. David Richardson, D-Miami, said the investment would spur economic development.

“No one can dispute that the famous team we have in Miami, the Heat, does not raise attention and bring tourism to the community,” he said.

The bill passed in a 89-27 vote.

The Miami Dolphins were pleased by the outcome.

“While we would not likely get funding this year, it puts us in the game,” said Dolphins lobbyist Ron Book, adding that the team would file an application to support its planned $300 million renovation.

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