The Dolphins are moving quickly to raid the public till for improvements to their private stadium, and the part that I can't get past — the part that strikes me as most perverse — is a $90 million state tax subsidy.
The Dolphins want to siphon $3 million a year for 30 years from Florida's general fund through a sales-tax rebate. The proposal cleared its first hurdle in Tallahassee last week, getting approval from a Senate subcommittee.
The money — on sales tax generated from goods and services purchased at Sun Life Stadium — would otherwise go to Florida's general budget. You know, things like public schools, universities, health programs for the sick and elderly, and other social services.
It's the worst kind of corporate welfare imaginable, a reverse Robin Hood scenario in which we'd be robbing from the needy to help the wealthy.
The other public portion of the Dolphins funding plan — hiking the hotel bed tax in mainland Miami-Dade County — is an easier sell, because that money comes mainly from the pockets of tourists. It now appears that part of the plan will be subject to a voter referendum in Miami-Dade, and could be contingent upon the NFL awarding a Super Bowl to South Florida in May.
Both components need legislative approval.
The Dolphins' lobbyist, Ron Book, told state senators last week that sales-tax rebates for sports teams have been done before, and that's true. Many teams and venues (for example, baseball spring training facilities) have landed $2 million annual rebates under existing law meant to stimulate the sports economy and tourism.
But this bill carves out a new added subsidy, crafted especially for the Dolphins. You can bet other teams will stampede for a new round of handouts if this passes.
Just because something ridiculous has been done in the past is no excuse for doing it again.
I'm glad to see the pushback that's sprouted in the month since Dolphins owner Stephen Ross, a billionaire real estate developer, unveiled the renovation proposal. The Miami-Dade legislative delegation didn't include the stadium bill on its priority list. And Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez has shown some refreshing spine, with his Super Bowl demand from the NFL on Monday and the referendum, which the team initially balked at.
I'm also glad Miami-Dade voters will get their say this time, which didn't happen with the Marlins stadium or in Broward with the Panthers arena deal. But as a Floridian, I'm offended by the prospect of the Dolphins taking a bite of out the state budget for three decades.
Ross has already said he'd pay for more than half the projected $400 million renovation. How about paring down the project's wish list — which includes a partial roof and other fancy amenities — and leaving state money out of it?
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