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MLS wants tax exemption for Florida all-star game tickets, in addition to subsidy for new stadiums

@PatriciaMazzei

Major League Soccer doesn't just want a state subsidy for new sports facilities to welcome perhaps two new teams to Florida.

It also wants lawmakers to waive a 6-percent state admission sales tax for any MLS all-star game that could someday be played in the Sunshine State.

With an expansion franchise scheduled to open in Orlando and David Beckham pushing to a bring another team to Miami, MLS is trying to get the same treatment that Florida legislators have given in the past to other professional sports leagues.

Sales taxes are already waived for the National Football League's Super Bowl championship and Pro Bowl games, for example, and for Major League Baseball's Home Run Derby, as well as for pro basketball and hockey all-star games.

House Bill 231 and its companion, Senate Bill 330, would add MLS to that list, resulting in a loss to state coffers of about $100,000 in taxes for each all-star game, according an estimate by the Senate's Commerce and Tourism committee. The same legislative analysis notes MLS held its all-star game here once, in Orlando in 1998. (A similar House analysis also lists the $100,000 estimate, if a game is held within the next five years, but says a hard figure is "indeterminate.")

The big question is whether Florida lawmakers will be open to any of the requests to benefit sports franchises. Last year, the full House failed to take up a subsidy that would have helped the Miami Dolphins renovate Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens.

The paired MLS tax-exemption bills this year each cleared their first committees last week, both in unanimous fashion.

Those proposals involve far less money than Senate Bill 618, which would allow MLS franchises that build new stadiums to apply for an annual sales-tax rebate. Other professional teams in Florida have received similar subsidies to build new facilities.

Though the legislation doesn't specify how much would be available, a failed bill last year tried to secure a $2 million annual subsidy over 20 years -- that is, $40 million -- for the new Orlando City MLS franchise. Beckham's Miami investors have not said publicly how much they would pursue, thought the figure is expected to be similar.

The group, Miami Beckham United, has said it intends to privately fund stadium construction, but it is seeking a deal on public land in addition to the state rebate.

The subsidy legislation does not yet have a House companion. Identical bills need to pass both chambers in order to head to the governor's desk.

The three MLS-related bills have been primarily sponsored by Orlando-area lawmakers, though Sen. Gwen Margolis, a Miami Democrat, has co-sponsored the Senate version of the all-star game sales-tax exemption. Orlando City is scheduled to begin playing next year.

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