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House could spike Dolphins bill: ‘We’ve waited three weeks,’ Speaker says

The clock is ticking and the plot is thickening in the Miami Dolphins’ quest for stadium-renovation-tax-dollars, as the Florida Legislature is struggling to come together on a deal in the waning days of Session. 

The Florida Senate postponed debate on the tax-break package Thursday, and House Speaker Weatherford voiced concern over the delays in the other chamber. 

“We’ve been waiting for three weeks,” said Weatherford, who holds the fate of the Dolphins in his hands. “We’ve been hearing that it’s going to come over (from the Senate) for several weeks and we haven’t seen anything yet.”

Senate President Don Gaetz said bill sponsor Oscar Braynon (D-Miami Gardens) was not ready to bring the bill up for debate on Thursday as scheduled.

For the Dolphins’ bill to pass, the Senate would have to approve it and send it to the House. The House would have to approve it, possibly by sending it to a committee first. All of this would have to occur within the next few days, as the legislative session ends next Friday.

Weatherford would have to go out of his way to assign the bill to a committee in the House, and he’s backed away from embracing that idea as the end of session has gotten closer.

“It’s hard to say what we would be amenable to,” he said.

He then acknowledged that the stadium tax break—which has received near unanimous support in the Senate—isn’t so popular in the House.

“The membership does have some concerns,” he said. “In a year where we’re not completely flush with cash, about picking and choosing which projects should be funded and which ones shouldn’t.”

He went on to say that he thought the Senate’s approach (a competition between teams for a single pot of tax dollars) was “onto something.”

While the bill has largely cruised through the Senate, there’s been more turbulence in the House, with Miami-Dade lawmakers leading the charge against the tax break. The House Budget chairman refused to hear the bill in his committee this month, effectively stalling it in that chamber.

The bill would allow Miami-Dade to raise its mainland tourist tax, potentially bringing in up to $289 million for the team to rebuild its stadium. The team could also get an additional state tax break of up to $3 million annually for several years, according to an agreement with the county. The team’s stadium renovation could cost more than $350 million, and the Dolphins have agreed to pay back some of the tax dollars used for the project. 

A local referendum on the deal is scheduled for May 14, but the scheduled vote could be moot if the Legislature doesn’t pass the bill. The team has staked its hopes of hosting Super Bowl 50--which will be awarded in late May--on the stadium upgrade.

It’s not too late for a last-minute Hail-Mary score for the Dolphins. A bill passed by the Senate on Wednesday was assigned to a House committee on Friday.

As Weatherford said Thursday, a week is “a lifetime” in session.

@ToluseO

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