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27 posts from May 3, 2013

May 03, 2013

Without tax dollars, Miami Dolphins owner must decide whether to spend own cash

via @doug_hanks

Without tax dollars at his disposal, how much money will Stephen Ross spend on Sun Life Stadium?

That’s the question looming over the billionaire owner of the Miami Dolphins in the wake of the Florida Legislature denying his request for both state and county dollars to fund about 45 percent upfront of a $350 million stadium renovation. The team claims the 1987 stadium will be rendered all but unusable in the next five to 10 years without a major rehab, including removing the former Florida Marlins dugouts. Ross’s top aide last week said public dollars were mandatory for the project to proceed.

“I was asked was there a chance Mr. Ross will go forward without a private-public partnership,’’ Dolphins CEO Mike Dee told reporters on April 26. “My answer was no.” In April, Ross told CBS 4 of the Tallahassee bill: “If it stumbles... there won’t be a renovation.”

While Ross has preemptively rejected funding the full $350 million project — which included a canopy to shield the seats from sun and rain — he has not said whether a more modest renovation is possible. One portion of the proposal involved ripping out about 9,000 cheap seats in the top rows of the stadium and adding about 3,000 pricier ones near the field.

Those changes would reduce Sun Life’s capacity by 13 percent to about 65,000, which could help the Dolphins avoid television blackouts that the NFL imposes when the stadium has too many seats to sell on game day.

“He needs to look at the [upgrades] that will pay for themselves’’ said John Vrooman, a Vanderbilt University economics professor who studies stadiums. “I don’t think the roof is going to pay for itself. Cutting back on the marginal seats in the upper deck...creates excess demand [and] inflates the prices for the other seats. That is a positive move” for Ross.

More here.

Bill authorizing maternity unit for Miami Children's headed to Gov. Scott

One of the final bills approved by the Florida Senate before session adjourned today authorized a 10-bed maternity wing at Miami Children's Hospital.

Although the labor-and-delivery unit was not particularly popular in this chamber, House Bill 1159 passed overwhelming because it contained a host of other priorities for the members. The legislation now heads to Gov. Rick Scott's desk for his signature.

Miami Children's says it needs this ability to accommodate mothers who are expected to give birth to babies with serious illnesses. The hospital argued that the new wing will allow doctors to immediately give sick newborns the attention they need, instead of waiting for them to be driven or flown there.

The ability to save children is what caused Rep. Eduardo Gonzalez, R-Hialeah, to sponsor the measure intially, he said. "That’s why I’m passionate about the issue; that’s why I fought for it."

Opponents of the legislation in both the House and the Senate argued that nearby hospitals, especially Jackson Memorial, were better equipped to assist mothers with high-risk pregnancies and that there isn't evidence the existing system caused babies harm.

The Senate voted earlier this week to strip the maternity unit out of HB 1159. The House put that language back in today before sending it to the Senate for the final vote.

Sens. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood, and Dwight Bullard, D-Miami, tried to get the Senate to remove the language again, but their colleagues resisted on the grounds such an action would doom the wide-ranging bill for good. 

Continue reading "Bill authorizing maternity unit for Miami Children's headed to Gov. Scott" »

Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross blasts Weatherford for spiking Dolphins deal

Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross is none-too-happy with House Speaker Will Weatherford, after the team's attempt for a taxpayer-supported stadium flamed out in the Florida House on Friday.

In a statement, Ross blamed Weatherford for killing the deal and said that the House Speaker gave him his word the bill would come up for a vote.

Weatherford refuted claims Thursday that he had told Dan Marino the bill was likely to pass. 

In the end, the House Speaker said that kind of legislation needed more vetting before being approved by the Legislature.

See comment from Ross here:

Tonight, Speaker Weatherford did far more than just deny the people of Miami Dade the right to vote on an issue critical to the future of our local economy.  The Speaker singlehandedly put the future of Super Bowls and other big events at risk for Miami Dade and for all of Florida. He put politics before the people and the 4,000 jobs this project would have created for Miami Dade,and that is just wrong.


I am deeply disappointed by the Speaker's decision. He gave me and many others his word that this legislation would go to the floor of the House for a vote, where I know, and he knows, we had the votes to win by a margin as large as we did in the Senate. It’s hard to understand why he would stop an election already in process and disenfranchise the 40,000 people who have already voted. I can only assume he felt it was in his political interest to do so. Time will tell if that is the case, but I am certain this decision will follow Speaker Weatherford for many years to come.


Continue reading "Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross blasts Weatherford for spiking Dolphins deal" »

Miami Dolphins campaign blasts Florida House


Jorge Arrizurieta and H.T. Smith, who co-chaired the Miami Dolphins' campaign for a subsidized renovation to Sun Life Stadium, bashed the Florida House of Representatives late Friday for squashing the football club's plans.

Lawmakers ended the annual legislative session without taking up a Dolphins-backed bill that would have allowed Miami-Dade County to ask voters if they wanted to raise the hotel-tax rate to fund part of the $350 million in upgrades.

"While the Tallahassee politicians found time to raise the contribution limits for their fundraising, they said they couldn't find time to let the people of Miami-Dade make their voices heard," the men said in a statement.

Read the full statement below.

Continue reading "Miami Dolphins campaign blasts Florida House" »

Dolphins stadium deal spiked in Tallahassee, timeline of a deal-gone-down

The Florida Legislature adjourned Friday without giving the Miami Dolphins approval to move ahead with a taxpayer-supported stadium upgrade.

For more on the Dolphins deal, read here:

Below is a timeline of events, showing how the teams' effort evolved and eventually failed in the Florida Legislature:

Jan. 15, 2013: Dolphins make official pitch for a new stadium, supported by state tax dollars, and draft legislation in for a tax deal.

Jan. 23, 2013: Miami-Dade County sends resolution to Tallahassee lawmakers, asking them to approve the tax deal.

Feb. 5, 2013: First Senate panel hears, approves Dolphins stadium bill on a unanimous vote.

Feb. 7, 2013: Miami Dade local delegation does not make Dolphins bill a priority when setting its legislative agenda. Several Miami-Dade lawmakers oppose deal.

Feb. 9, 2013: Dolphins agree to a voter referendum on the stadium issue.

March 5, 2013: Session begins.

March 6, 2013: Dolphins bill clears second Senate Finance & Tax committee unanimously. Amendment to $13 million end tax break for international banks added.

March 6, 2013: Gov. Rick Scott lays out requirements for any sports team looking for sales tax breaks. Requirements include referendum and 30-year non-relocation agreement.

March 8, 2013: In first hearing in Florida House, Dolphins bill dodges “hostile amendments,” passing on a 12-4 vote. Norman Braman appeared at House Finance & Tax Committee meeting to protest bill.

Continue reading "Dolphins stadium deal spiked in Tallahassee, timeline of a deal-gone-down" »

Legislators pass plan to do end-run around lawsuit challenging Everglades leases

Florida Legislators used a bill to change wetlands regulations to block a lawsuit against the state for approving two no-bid, 20-year lease agreements with sugar and vegetable farmers.

The leases were approved by the governor and Cabinet in January and are now being challenged in court by the Florida Wildlife Federation, which alleges the leases allow the sugar growers to continue to farm without reducing their pollution levels. 

The provision was added to HB 999, a wide-ranging bill that changes environmental regulations. The House voted 106-10 late Friday while the Senate voted 39-1 and sent the measure to the governor.

The sugar industry said in a statement that the legislation was needed to "avoid obstructionist litigation from some extreme environmental activists" and to complete the state's clean-up efforts that are part of the Everglades settlement legislators also ratified.

Former U.S. Sen. Bob Graham appealed to legislators to reject the bill on Thursday. Graham, a member of the Florida Conservation Coalition, said it was clearly intended to end the litigation.

The Senate on Thursday stripped the bill of other provisions opposed by environmentalists , including a three-year ban on local fertilizer ordinances and a measure to prevent local governments from imposing local wetlands regulations.  


Stuffed with projects, budget easily passes Legislature

In one of the tamest sessions in recent history, lawmakers on Friday reached an accord on the state budget at 6:50 p.m., more than five hours before the deadline

At $74.5 billion, it was the biggest budget in state history, stuffed with spending that nearly everyone, Democrats and Republicans, found something to like. It passed by a vote of 106-11, with 32 Democrats joining Republicans in support of it.

“We have a budget that we can be proud of,” said Rep. Betty Reed, D-Tampa. “I can go home and tell my constituents that we have a good budget, that we did the best we could.”

The budget comes stuffed with new spending, including:

Continue reading "Stuffed with projects, budget easily passes Legislature" »

House, Senate OK virtual education expansion

With the clock winding down on the 2013 Legislative session, the House signed off on a bill that would revamp virtual education in Florida.

The proposal would enable more private online education companies to do business with public schools. And it directs state education officials to conduct a study on Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOCs, so that Florida may look into offering the classes for credit.

Rep. Manny Diaz, Jr., R-Miami, who sponsored the bill in the House, said the bill will help break down barriers, so that "no matter where a student's zip code is, he or she will have access to a world-class education."

He added: "If we want to be a leader in education, we have to keep up with the technology and explore these avenues."

The bill won the support of the Senate on Thursday.

Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, likened the proposal to “letting the outstanding [online education providers] from around the world come to the state of Florida, and allowing our teachers and students to decide what’s best for them.”

Said Sen. Darren Soto, D-Orlando: “Here we go again. Another way to privatize our public schools.”

It is now headed to Gov. Rick Scott for final approval.

Edgar wins reappointment to the PSC on 26-13 vote, after tough critique

The Florida Senate hit a snag late Friday as it the final day of session was winding down when a routine confirmation of Public Service Commissioner Lisa Edgar took a surprise turn as legislators spent a half-hour in vigorous debate before confirming her 26-13.

Edgar, who is seeking a third term on the board that regulates utilities, was criticized by several senators for too pro-utility while supporters said she was well-qualified and deserved another four years in the $130,000 job. She was appointed to the post by Gov. Rick Scott, after a commission dominated by legislators nominated her for a third term. 

Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, led the opposition as supporters and opponents crossed party lines. As chairman of the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee, he had previously voted to confirm Edgar but decided he wanted to raise his concerns about her voting record. 

"She does not do an adequate job of representing the ratepayers and consumers of the State of Florida,'' he said. He said she could have been more aggressive in holding utilities accountable before allowing FloridaPower & Light and the former Progress Energy to charge customers for pre-construction costs for nuclear power plants.

Continue reading "Edgar wins reappointment to the PSC on 26-13 vote, after tough critique" »

House restores Miami Children's maternity unit, sends back to Senate

The Senate now has a tough decision to make.

For the second time in two days, and with just hours to go in session, senators is being asked to approve a 10-bed labor and delivery unit at Miami Children's Hospital and cancer treatment guidelines that they don't like.

They rejected that same language on Thursday. It's now back in HB 1159 bill, along with some other things that the Senate does want.

The House voted 103-13 to approve the amended bill, which also allows a nursing home in the Village retirement community and a trauma center for Fort Walton Beach. The Senate already signed off on those provisions.

The House also added $500,000 in state funding for the prescription drug database, a priority of Rep. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, and a mostly non-controversial provision.

The bill will now be sent back to the Senate, which must act before it adjourns today.

Continue reading "House restores Miami Children's maternity unit, sends back to Senate" »