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Fla. Legislature refuses to aid Miami Dolphins

By GARY FINEOUT - Associated Press
    2013-05-03 20:47

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) - Florida's oldest professional sports franchise - the Miami Dolphins - was dealt a crushing blow Friday when the Florida Legislature ended its session without passing any funding plan that would assist the team's quest to refurbish its stadium.

The refusal of the GOP-controlled Legislature to aid the team wasn't just a defeat for the Dolphins - it could also sack South Florida's efforts to lure another Super Bowl to the region in the next few years.

Others who lost out include the city of Orlando, which was hoping for help to lure a Major League Soccer team, as well as the Jacksonville Jaguars and Daytona International Speedway.

The professional sports teams were all backing a Florida Senate proposal that would have allowed each of them to compete for a share of state tax dollars. The measure would have created a process for pro teams to vie for $13 million a year in state incentives.

But the House - led by Speaker Will Weatherford - refused to bring up the legislation.

``I think part of the complication was the fact that it wasn't just the Dolphins,'' Weatherford said. ``You had five or six different franchises that were looking for a tax rebate, and that's serious public policy. You're talking about hundreds of millions of dollars and I think the House just never got comfortable there when the session ended.''

But the defeat was especially stinging for the Dolphins since the team had already agreed to pay for a Miami-Dade County referendum on whether to raise local bed taxes to assist the team. The initial Senate bill authorized the use of the taxes. The failure of legislators to act makes the May 14 ballot question meaningless, even though early and absentee balloting had already begun.

Dolphins owner Stephen Ross blasted Weatherford, saying in a statement that the Wesley Chapel Republican had promised to at least let the legislation come up for a vote on the House floor.

``He put politics before the people and the 4,000 jobs this project would have created for Miami Dade, and that is just wrong,'' Ross said.

Weatherford, in a tweet, later contended that it wasn't true that he had promised an up or down vote.

Ross also said that the decision sent a ``terrible message'' to National Football League owners who will soon decide whether to bring a Super Bowl back to Florida in either 2016 or 2017.

The Dolphins wanted both state and local help to pay for $400 million worth of renovations to 26-year-old Sun Life Stadium. The Dolphins wanted $3 million a year for the next 30 years from the state.

In order to convince skeptical politicians, the team agreed to a series of concessions - including that it would pay part of the money after 30 years.

But the push by the Dolphins coincided with an effort by other cities and professional sports organizations to also obtain state tax dollars.

The Florida Senate bill would have let the Dolphins tap into local taxes to help pay for renovations to their stadium. But in the waning moments of the session the Senate passed a revised version that stripped the local tax portion and instead just made the Dolphins eligible for state money. That failed too.

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Associated Press writer Bruce Schreiner in Tallahassee contributed to this report.

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Follow Gary Fineout on Twitter: http://twitter.com/fineout

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