The Miami Dolphins’ push for a taxpayer-supported stadium renovations gained steam in the Florida Legislature on Friday, sidestepping a number of toxic amendments aimed at killing the bill.
The Dolphins, who are asking for as much as $200 million in taxpayer support for the stadium overhaul, shepherded their proposal through its first committee stop in the Florida House, where it passed by a 12-4 vote.
The battery of rogue amendments included a proposal from Rep. Carlos Trujillo, a Miami Republican, to have Broward County help foot the bill for proposed improvements to SunLife Stadium. The bill as originally drafted would require only Miami-Dade County to raise its mainland hotel tax.
Trujillo said Broward had amassed $58 million in revenue in 2010 when the Super Bowl was held in South Florida, while Miami-Dade had collected $40 million.
“I think it is fair that if some people are going to receive the majority of the benefit, they should at least pay half the tax,” Trujillo said.
Broward officials thought otherwise.
“An amendment that would require tourism-development tax dollars in Broward to go to a project outside of the county is something we would traditionally oppose,” Broward Legislative Coordinator Nick Matthews said, being careful to note that the delegation had not taken a position on the bill itself.
The House subcommittee on finance and tax agreed and killed the amendment.
The subcommittee also rejected an amendment from Rep. Michael Bileca, a Miami Republican, that would have required Dolphins owner Stephen Ross to return a share of the tax dollars if he were to sell a majority stake of the team.
An amendment offered by Rep. José Javier Rodríguez, a Miami Democrat, failed to get traction, too.
The barrage of so-called “unfriendly” amendments caused tension on the dais, and prompted the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Eddy Gonzalez, to accuse his colleagues of acting in bad faith.
The bill did, however, pick up one tweak aimed at improving its chances of passing. That amendment follows the path of the Senate bill, which was changed this week to require Miami-Dade voters to approve the financing plan in a referendum vote.
“Having a referendum on this and letting the voters decide is a good thing,” Gonzalez said. “If it doesn’t pass, then it’s the will of the voters, and I’m good with that.”
But even after the referendum clause was accepted, the bill faced tough rhetoric from outspoken opponents of a taxpayer-financed deal, including Miami businessman Norman Braman.
“It’s a rip-off for the taxpayers,” said Braman, who led the charge to recall former Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Alvarez after the county helped finance the new Miami Marlins Ballpark.
Cutler Bay Mayor Ed MacDougall rattled off a list of Miami-Dade mayors opposing the proposal.
“I have spoken to almost all of the mayors of Miami-Dade County and they have asked me to share their opposition to this bad bill,” MacDougall said. “If Stephen Ross feels these improvements are necessary to keep his team competitive, we believe he should pay for them himself.”
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. That would provide up to half the cost of the $400 million renovations of SunLife Stadium.
Friday’s contentious vote signaled that the Dolphins may have more trouble getting their bill through the 120-member House than the 40-member Senate, where lawmakers have unanimously supported the bill in two committee votes.
Even if the proposal clears both chambers, several challenges remain.
Gov. Rick Scott, who has indicated he will only sign stadium bills if they meet certain requirements, could veto it.
Additionally, Miami-Dade voters, still sour from the widely panned Marlins stadium deal, could vote against the new tax in a referendum. A recent poll found that 73 percent of likely Miami-Dade voters were against the Dolphins’ proposal.
The Dolphins, who have retained powerful lobbyists in Tallahassee, say they have a good shot at success.
“We’re confident that if we’re able to take this to the voters, in early May, that the facts will prevail,” Dolphins CEO Mike Dee said. “And the voters will make the choice that’s best for the community.”