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Panhandle lawmaker with power over Dolphins deal getting an earful

A Panhandle Republican has an outsized role to play in deciding whether the Miami Dolphins’ quest for a taxpayer-supported stadium renovation is successful—and he’s getting an earful from both sides of the debate.

Rep. Jimmy Patronis, a Panama City Republican who chairs the Economic Affairs Committee, said the team’s bill was more likely to get a hearing after the Dolphins have agreed to “concessions,” but acknowledged that opponents of the bill have his ear as well.

“I don’t know yet,” he said about whether he’d bring the Dolphins bill up for a vote soon. “I have had [many] meetings about the Dolphins bill with the stakeholders—both opponents and the proponents—and it seems like the negotiations on behalf of putting forward a package that there’s a consensus on everyday gets better and better.”

The Dolphins are backing HB 165, hoping get as much as $200 million in taxpayer aid for the renovation of Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens. The team said a stadium upgrade would help lure a Super Bowl to South Florida—and recently agreed to make some of the taxpayer support contingent on doing just that.

“I am enthusiastically a big fan of Super Bowls being in the state of Florida and understanding if this is what it takes to get one, then great,” said Patronis. “But can the state afford it?”

Patronis said the Economic Affairs committee may meet next week, though he’s not sure if the Dolphins bill will be on the agenda. The House bill was last heard two weeks ago (March 8) in the Finance & Tax committee and was sent to Economic Affairs. Committee chairs can effectively kill bills by not bringing them up for a hearing.

“It’s 50-50,” Patronis said Thursday from the floor of the Florida House, where he sits next to Dolphins bill sponsor Rep. Eddy Gonzalez, R-Hialeah. “We have not talked about it today.”

Patronis said the Dolphins are getting closer to getting the consensus they need to pass their bill. The Senate companion has received a near-unanimous support at the committee level and the most vocal opposition has come from Miami-Dade lawmakers..

“The bill definitely has more support by the members of the chamber than it had two weeks ago,” he said. “And I think some of the concessions that the Dolphins leadership team has put forward definitely make the bill more attractive.”

Patronis did say that three other tax break bills for other stadiums are, in effect, tethered to the Dolphins bill, as it would not to be fair to give one a hearing while denying others. Tax breaks benefitting the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Daytona Speedway and a Major League Soccer team are also hoping to get a hearing before Patronis’s committee.

“What you contemplate doing for one, you then have the obligation to be sensitive to all,” he said.