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Florida: Miami Dolphins can pay for referendum on stadium renovation


The Florida division of elections opined Friday that the Miami Dolphins can pay Miami-Dade County for the costs of holding a special countywide election to ask voters to approve using public funds to renovate Sun Life Stadium.

The opinion clears the way for Miami-Dade to set the referendum next month, if and when County Mayor Carlos Gimenez and Dolphins owner Stephen Ross reach a deal on how much the football team would receive from mainland hotel taxes. The Dolphins have asked to increase the tax to 7 percent from 6 percent. They also want an additional $3 million annual sales-tax rebate from the state.

"As I have stated before, the taxpayers of Miami-Dade County should not be forced to shoulder the cost of this election since it is being brought about by a request from a private party," Gimenez said in a statement Friday afternoon. "This is an important ruling that will give Miami-Dade County voters final approval over whether tourist development tax dollars should be used for this purpose without having our taxpayers bear the cost of the election."

Gimenez had requested the opinion two weeks ago. The Dolphins have said they would pay for the referendum if they were legally allowed to do so.

"We find nothing in Florida law to prohibit Miami-Dade County from requiring a private party to pay the cost of a referendum in the manner that you describe in your request," wrote Maria Matthews, director of the division of elections, which is within the Florida Department of State.

The Dolphins' legal ability to pay was in question because of a 1980s Florida opinion prohibited private companies from funding an election. But state law was amended in 1992 to require parimutuels to deposit a sum to cover local county elections. That precedent means the earlier opinion no longer applies to this case, Matthews wrote.

She also emphasized that the Dolphins would pay for the election regardless of its outcome.

"The proposal under discussion shifts the cost of the election from the taxpayers to a private entity, while providing a transparent method of private financing that is in no way contingent upon the result of the election," the opinion says.

Gimenez had said Thursday the county would not begin spending money to prepare for an election unless it knew the Dolphins could reimburse Miami-Dade for the cost. That could have delayed a referendum past May 21, when NFL owners will meet to award the 50th and 51st Super Bowls.

"If I don't get that letter, then we're not going to move that fast," Gimenez said Thursday night. "If we have to wait for that, we'll wait for that."

The county elections department expects a countywide referendum to cost between $3 million and $5 million.