March 08, 2013

Stadium bill survives hostile amendments, wins approval of House panel


The Miami Dolphins’ push for a taxpayer-supported stadium renovations gained steam in the Florida Legislature on Friday, sidestepping a number of toxic amendments aimed at killing the bill.

The Dolphins, who are asking for as much as $200 million in taxpayer support for the stadium overhaul, shepherded their proposal through its first committee stop in the Florida House, where it passed by a 12-4 vote.

The battery of rogue amendments include
d a proposal from Rep. Carlos Trujillo, a Miami Republican, to have Broward County to help foot the bill for proposed improvements to SunLife Stadium. The bill as originally drafted would require only Miami-Dade County to raise its mainland hotel tax.

Continue reading "Stadium bill survives hostile amendments, wins approval of House panel" »

Jeb Bush, Miami GOP mourn passing of Mary Ellen Miller

Mary Ellen Miller, a revered Republican elder stateswoman who rose through party-activist ranks to twice chair the party in Miami-Dade County, died Wednesday at her Venetian Island home.

She was a dignified, private person who declined to discuss her illness, which took even close friends by surprise, according to Liliana Ros, a longtime GOP committeewoman and friend.

Often compared to former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, Miller advised Republican governors, local officials, members of Congress and the Florida Legislature.

She was known for being as discreet as she was connected. It’s said that she never spoke ill of anyone, even Democrats.

“Even after she retired, we still went to her,’’ Ros said. “She knew everything: state laws, party laws. She was very gentle, sweet. She had no ego, and that in politics that is very unusual. … She would get upset if you praised her.’’

Over the years, Miller supported Sen. Marco Rubio, former U.S. Rep. David Rivera, both Bush presidents, and former Gov. Jeb Bush, among others.

“Mary Ellen was a great Republican and an even finer person,’’ Jeb Bush, who’d been the county’s party chairman in the 1980s, wrote in an email. “No one worked harder. No one was more committed. You could count on Mary Ellen Miller, and everyone did.’’

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March 07, 2013

Should Broward help pay for Dolphins stadium upgrade? Dade lawmaker thinks so

After adding an amendment to require Miami-Dade voters to approve a new local hotel tax to help pay for a $400 million upgrade of the Miami Dolphins stadium, skeptical lawmakers may be planning more changes for the controversial proposal. 

Rep. Carlos Trujillo, R-Miami, implied that the bill should include a contribution from Broward County taxpayers as well, since much of the economic benefit from the Miami Gardens stadium takes place north of the Dade County line.

“One concern that I have is Dade County is paying 100 percent of the tax,” said Trujillo. “We receive, best case scenario…38 percent of the tourists. The majority stay in Broward and Broward doesn’t have to pay anything.”

Trujillo sits on the Finance and Tax Committee, where the bill will be heard on Friday—along with four lawmakers from Broward County. A Senate version of the bill passed its second of four committee stops on Wednesday, with a unanimous vote.

Continue reading "Should Broward help pay for Dolphins stadium upgrade? Dade lawmaker thinks so" »

March 06, 2013

Rick Scott message guru guiding Miami Dolphins stadium strategy


Give it to the Miami Dolphins: They know how to play offense.

At least in the state Capitol.

In the club's effort to get a tax-subsidized stadium deal, it hired top Republican message-master Curt Anderson, who was part of the consultant dream team that helped Rick Scott, an unknown former hospital executive with a blemished past, become governor of Florida.

Now Anderson might be embarking on a just-as-tough effort: Getting a jaundiced Miami-Dade electorate to approve a tax deal for a stadium. A new poll from FIU pollster Dario Moreno shows it's a longshot. Voters here are still stewing over the Miami Marlins stadium deal.

A poll from Anderson's firm, OnMessage Media (an arm of OnMessage Sports, which has worked on other tax-sports issues), indicates voters can be persuaded in Miami-Dade to back the stadium deal. (Moreno poll is here; Anderson poll nugget is here).

Of course, all of this is on paper. If, and it's a big if, this passes the Legislature, Scott will have to decide whether to sign the bill. Although, Scott just so happened to voice a measure of support for the stadium deal today.

If all that happens, then the campaign begins to persuade people in earnest. As Prussian Gen. Helmuth von Moltke said: No battle plan survives first contact with the enemy. Boxer Mike Tyson's version: Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.

Here's Anderson's slogan: "We measure public opinion. Then we change it."

But not always. For every Rick Scott gubernatorial success story, there's a Texas Gov. Rick Perry campaign for president, which Anderson, Fabrizio and Warfield all worked on (Dolphins owner Steven Ross, incidentally, had backed Mitt Romney).

Miami Dolphins chief trashes "ginned up" poll showing stadium plan is highly unpopular, toxic


A written statement from Miami Dolphins President and CEO Mike Dee on today's poll showing about 73 percent of likely Miami-Dade voters don't like the club's tax-subsidy plan:

“A ginned-up poll paid for by a mystery client that goes out of its way to lead people to a negative position is hardly enough to sway us from our efforts to put this issue in front of voters this spring. We believe in the people of Miami Dade County, and trust that the voters can and will see the differences in our project from prior ones.

“The fact that the Dolphins will pay a majority of the costs, and that the rest will be paid by tourists and patrons of the stadium - and never by residents of Miami Dade - along with creating thousands of jobs and millions in economic activity for the people of our community, are powerful facts than this cynical, politically-motivated poll conveniently ignores.

“We know that we have to make our case to the elected leaders and the people of Miami Dade. It’s a challenge we readily accept and are confident it will end with the voters approving our plans to create more jobs and more opportunity for the people of Miami Dade County."

One note: There's no evidence that this was a so-called "push poll" that, in Dee's words, "goes out of its way to lead people to a negative position." Indeed, it described one of the sales-tax breaks the Dolphins seek as a "rebate" when the state program can act like a subsidy.

Here's the question pollster Dario Moreno said he asked:

The Dolphins are asking for a one-cent increase in the "bed tax" in Miami-Dade County, as well as a $3-million-a-year rebate in sales tax revenue generated by goods and services at Sun Life Stadium. Stephen Ross, the owner of the Dolphins, has pledged to pay for at least half of the $400 million renovations himself, meaning the team is asking for approximately $199 million in public funding. Do you support or oppose this plan?

And there's an irony as well: The Dolphins shared a portion of their own poll, but it was more of a push poll that Moreno's. That is, it message-tested, which all campaigns have to do, by asking a series of questions of voters to figure out how popular an item is or how to make it popular. The survey, conducted by a group called OnMessage Sports, that they said showed 59 percent approved of the plan and only 33 percent disapproved after they were "informed." The poll's crosstabs were not shared with The Miami Herald, unlike Moreno's survey.

Dolphins stadium-tax deal highly unpopular, a 'toxic' political killer, poll shows


About 73 percent of likely Miami-Dade voters oppose a plan to give the Miami Dolphins a tax subsidy for stadium improvements, according to a new poll obtained by The Miami Herald that indicates the issue is a political killer for politicians to support.

"This is toxic to the Legislature, the county commission and the executive," said Dario Moreno, a political science professor at Florida International University who conducted the 1,000 voter survey for a private client.

"There's not one group of likely voter who supports this idea," Moreno said. "Even in County Commission District 1, where the stadium is, people are overwhelmingly opposed."

Opposition cuts across demographic and party lines. It is highly unpopular in each of the county's 13 commission districts.

Overall, nearly 61 percent of people polled strongly oppose the measure, while nearly 12 percent simply oppose it. Only 17 percent support or strongly support it.

Poisoning the Dolphins effort: The unpopular Miami Marlins baseball stadium deal, which led to the recall of former Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez, Moreno said.

"These are recall numbers," he said. "These numbers are very similar to the recall numbers. What they tell you is Miami-Dade County has not yet recovered from the Marlins deal. And I think people are very reluctant to give public money to a private sports team."

People are paying attention as well, with 59 percent of voters saying they're somewhat or very familiar with the proposal.

The poll, conducted Monday and Tuesday, comes on the heels of the first state Senate committee vote in the Legislature (background here). Lawmakers are amending the bill to ensure that voters have a referendum so that they'll have a final say over increasing the bed tax by a penny and giving the Dolphins a $3 million annual sales-tax subsidy to help pay for stadium improvements.

But there's a good chance the measure will never make it out of the Legislature. Poll numbers like this can slow the momentum of any measure in the Legislature that's not a top priority of the leadership; and this isn't a must-pass bill for the House speaker or Senate president, neither of whom is from South Florida.

Also, before the poll was released, many in the Miami-Dade delegation already opposed the plan, making it tougher to pass as well in a 60-day lawmaking session where legislators from across the state want their bills to pass and don't have the time to spend on a measure that appears is if it will go nowhere.

Add in the strong opposition in the poll, and it becomes more politically popular to oppose the Dolphins measure. Also, a majority of legislators are Republican, who worry about votes that could make them look as if they're raising taxes.

A vote like that is a recipe for a GOP primary that many Republican lawmakers would prefer to avoid.

The poll questions were carefully worded. For instance, it described the sales-tax deal as a "rebate," even though the program can sometimes act more like a subsidy.

Also, Moreno said, this poll's sample size is not just large for a single county -- 1,000 -- it was conducted by using a verified voter list that targeted high-propensity voters. So it minimized the chance that non-voters or less-likely voters were surveyed.

The Dolphins effort might have already done political damage. The poll shows that 49 percent of likely voters believe the county is on the wrong track while about 28 percent think it's on the right track.

"That sentiment is partly a result of the Dolphins plan," Moreno said. "By going to the commission and getting support for this, it really soured people's view of the county. It looks like business as usual."

Moreno, who has polled for Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez, said he had simple advice: "Don't support this."

Gimenez said he has his doubts about the Dolphins deal.

"These numbers don't surprise me," the mayor said. "The Marlins deal is the elephant in the room. It poisoned any effort like this for any future sports franchise. Before this poll, we didn't even know if we were going to reach an agreement with teh Dolphins. Now the path is even tougher."

March 05, 2013

Dolphins bill now has amendment requiring referendum

When the so-called ‘Dolphins stadium’ bill goes before the Senate Finance & Tax committee on Wednesday, it will include an amendment allowing Miami-Dade voters to have the final say on whether or not taxpayers will chip in to renovate the Fins’ Miami Gardens Stadium.

An amendment, filed Tuesday, confirmed what bill sponsor Sen. Oscar Braynon, D-Miami Gardens, told the Herald last month. According to the amendment, the Miami Dolphins would only be able to receive taxpayer assistance for the stadium renovation if taxpayers themselves vote to allow it.

The amendment allows the referendum to take place before the bill is enacted. That could potentially allow Miami-Dade to set a referendum vote for sometime this Spring, ahead of the National Football League’s decision of where Super Bowl 50 will take place. South Florida is being considered, and the Dolphins say a newly renovated stadium could help give the region a leg up.

The Dolphins are asking for the mainland hotel tax to increase from 6 percent to 7 percent, as well as up to $90 million in sales tax rebates, paid out over 30 years. The $3 million annual tax break would be in addition to $2 million in annual payments SunLife is already receiving. Altogether, taxpayer money would help fund about half of the costs for the $400 million renovation. Miami-Dade legislators opted against making the stadium bill one of their legislative priorities this year.

Dolphins owner Stephen Ross initially opposed the referendum, saying there would not be time.

Ross traveled to Tallahassee yesterday, apparently at the request of Gov. Rick Scott for an event not related to the stadium bill. 


February 11, 2013

Miami lawmaker supports Dolphins' referendum, calls current plan 'bad deal'

Another lawmaker is throwing support behind a plan for the Miami Dolphins to go before voters prior to receiving taxpayer funding for a $400 million stadium renovation.

Rep. José Javier Rodríguez, D-Miami, said he believes voters should be “partners” in whatever deal is struck for the Dolphins, since they ultimately will provide the taxpayer funding. He said more changes need to be made to what is currently a "bad deal."

 “If we as taxpayers are going to invest in the success of our hometown NFL franchise, we ought to do that as their partners not as their benefactors. We want them to succeed; they should want us to benefit as well,” said Rodríguez.

Over the weekend, Dolphins pivoted their strategy to include a referendum vote on the stadium financing plan. Sen. Oscar Braynon, D-Miami Gardens, confirmed that he would be changing the language of the bill to allow for a referendum vote.

Rodríguez believes billionaire Dolphins owner Stephen Ross should pitch in more of his own money in the deal. The Miami-Dade delegation of lawmakers did not throw its official support behind the Dolphins’ proposal, with some lawmakers opposed to the deal.

Rodríguez wants lawmakers to consider more stipulations in the deal, including potentially using some of the money generated by the Dolphins to help pay for the county’s debt on the Marlins stadium.

Miami-Dade mayor Carlos Gimenez has also said he'd like Ross to pitch in more of his own money,.

See the press release below:

Continue reading "Miami lawmaker supports Dolphins' referendum, calls current plan 'bad deal'" »

February 10, 2013

Tickets, fraud probes and deaths: What Rep. Daphne Campbell says about citizens legislature, Miami-Dade

A Campbell family minivan has racked up five tickets for running red lights since 2010.

Most citizens would slow down. But Daphne Campbell isn’t like most citizens.

She’s a Democratic state representative who has another way to deal with future red-light tickets: file legislation to ban the traffic-surveillance cameras that shot video of her husband’s Honda Odyssey breaking traffic laws.

It could seem like a conflict of interest. But as long as a lawmaker’s bills don’t benefit him or her or a family member uniquely, it’s generally not a conflict of interest.

This is the state of ethics in the Florida Legislature. It’s a citizens’ legislature of 160 part-time lawmakers. They theoretically come from all walks of life and private professions.

This is representative democracy.

And Campbell, of Miami Shores, represents so much more in Miami-Dade.

Continue reading "Tickets, fraud probes and deaths: What Rep. Daphne Campbell says about citizens legislature, Miami-Dade" »

Miami Dolphins agree to referendum for stadium tax dollars

The Miami Dolphins have agreed to seek voter approval of tax dollars for Sun Life Stadium, with team executives dropping their objections to a referendum on the controversial plan, sources close to the matter said Saturday.

The Dolphins and County Mayor Carlos Gimenez plan to announce the referendum agreement at a press conference called for 8:15 a.m. Monday at County Hall, The Miami Herald has learned. Sen. Oscar Braynon, the Miami Gardens Democrat sponsoring a bill to bring Sun Life new state and county subsidies, would then change the proposed legislation to require a countywide vote on the plan, a source familiar with the Dolphins’ lobbying efforts said.

The Dolphins hope to get the issue before voters by May 22, when the NFL is expected to pick the host city for the 2016 Super Bowl, the 50th. The Dolphins have cited the bid to host that game as the reason to push for a quick decision on tax dollars to pay for about half of a proposed $400 million renovation.

Team owner Stephen Ross rejected the idea for a referendum as recently as last month, saying there wasn’t time. The apparent change in course comes days after Miami-Dade lawmakers left the stadium bill off their official list of priorities for this session in Tallahassee, a move that critics of the plan hailed as a big blow to the team’s chances in a Legislature already opposed to raising taxes.

By agreeing to a referendum, the Dolphins would test the lingering backlash against the 2009 deal that gave the Florida Marlins a new ballpark largely funded by taxpayers. The Dolphins see their plan as more palatable, since Ross has agreed to use private dollars to pay for at least $201 million of the project, with state and county funds paying for no more than $199 million.

Ross would likely use a mix of team and NFL funds, and some finance authorities have said NFL money could match the Dolphins’ contribution dollar for dollar.

The public money would come from a new $3 million state subsidy for Sun Life and increasing the county’s tax on mainland hotels to 7 percent from 6 percent. The Dolphins have proposed the same hotel-tax hike in prior years. A Miami Herald poll in October found 84 percent of Miami-Dade respondents were against spending tax dollars on the stadium, but that was before Ross’ pledge to use private dollars for a majority of the work.