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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."