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Dolphins bill gets Senate makeover, ties in other sports teams

The Miami Dolphins’ push to get taxpayers to pitch in millions of dollars for a stadium renovation has taken on a new form, with a major amendment in the Florida Senate.

The amendment, filed Tuesday morning by Sen. Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, would basically force sports teams to compete for the kind of multimillion-dollar tax breaks the state has been awarding for years.

As a number of teams have asked lawmakers for new tax breaks this year, the new Dolphins bill would make them compete for the money by proving they would create jobs and economic development in the state. The amendment, in effect, lumps in the Dolphins’ proposal (SB 306) with those of other teams seeking tax breaks.

The Department of Economic Opportunity would have a pot of about $15 million per year, and sports teams would compete for up to $3 million in annual tax breaks. Teams would be ranked based on how much of an economic benefit they could bring to the state, including the impact of major events like Super Bowls and other championship games.

The amendment, which passed unanimously, also includes “clawbacks” that would require teams to pay back much of the money they received if they leave the state.

The amendment does not affect the portion of SB 306 relating to local hotel taxes.

The Dolphins are hoping Miami-Dade County voters will raise the mainland hotel tax from 6 percent to 7 percent to help provide funding for a stadium renovation that could cost about $390 million. The team is also requesting up to $90 million in sales tax rebates from the state of Florida.

Gardiner sponsored the amendment with the intent of providing more accountability for tax-supported sports teams, who have received more than $250 million in economic incentives in over the last 20 years.

He said it creates a level playing field, and “takes a little bit of the politics out of this as well.”

The Dolphins, who are up against a tight timeline as they try to snag Super Bowl 50 by late May, supported the amendment, though CEO Mike Dee said it could present some “challenges” to the team’s financing plan. 

Dee said he was “pleased” with the bill passing the Rules Committee on Tuesday, but said the team would work to further amend it to address those challenges.

“Any time a bill moves, it helps,” he said.

It’s the latest of a series of concessions made by the Dolphins as they try to get Tallahassee lawmakers to approve financing for a $400-million upgrade of the Miami Gardens stadium. The Dolphins have pledged that taxpayer financing would make up less than half the cost of the renovation, and that much of the tax money would be paid back after 30 years.

Because the amendment has a major fiscal impact on the makeup of the bill, it will likely mean SB 306 will go back to the Appropriations Committee for another hearing. The bill has passed four committees in the Senate, with only one “no” vote. It has two more committee stops in the House, including one scheduled for Wednesday.