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Don't bet on MLS stadium funding bills to advance as written in Tallahassee

@PatriciaMazzei

The legislation filed in Tallahassee that would give new soccer stadiums a state subsidy? It's probably not going anywhere -- at least, not the way it's written now.

And that means it's likely there could be more hoops for new Major League Soccer franchises, including one proposed in Miami, to jump through to ask for funds.

A pair of bills -- one in the Florida House of Representatives, one in the Senate -- would allow MLS franchises looking to build new facilities to qualify for a tax break given in the past to other professional sports teams. A new Orlando franchise and the potential Miami one, owned by David Beckham and his investors, are looking for stadium funding.

But the odds of either of those proposals to advance in this year's legislative session are slim, said state Rep. Erik Fresen, a Miami Republican sponsoring the House version of the legislation.

"Those stand-alone bills don't mean anything," he said.

That's Tallahassee-speak. What it means is that while a particular piece of legislation -- in this case, Fresen's HB 887 and its Senate companion, SB 618 -- likely won't advance, another still un-filed proposal might.

In this case, the alternative is expected to be legislation creating a competitive process for sports teams to apply for the state sales-tax subsidy. The Senate passed such a plan last year, but it went nowhere in the House.

"I'd love that process," Fresen said, because it would take some of the politics out of the coveted funding applications. The way things stand now, where each team tries to rally support for its own subsidy, "hyperpoliticizes one stadium over another," he added.

[ House Speaker Will Weatherford told the News Service of Florida late Wednesday that he's not in favor of the state setting aside money for any professional-sports stadium projects this year. "Our focus right now is on a process that treats everyone equitably and not writing any checks," he said.] 

Fresen co-sponsored an unsuccessful proposal last year that would have given the Miami Dolphins $90 million over 30 years to renovate Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens. 

This time around, the Republican said he's less interested in helping MLS than in making sure a Miami-Dade lawmaker is involved in whatever legislation, if any, does gain traction. Before he filed his bill, all other MLS-related proposals had been sponsored by Orlando-area legislators.

"What I wanted to make sure is that during the conversation, I plant my flag as the lead negotiator from Miami-Dade," he said. 

Fresen also said he's unconcerned that support for tax dollars for private sports teams could hurt him politically. He faces reelection this fall.

"It's the last thing on my mind," Fresen said.

Two challengers, Republican Amory Bodin and Democrat Daisy Baez, have filed to run against him.

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