TALLAHASSEE — Up against the clock and with a future Super Bowl on the line, the Miami Dolphins suffered an epic loss Friday in the state Capitol. The look of defeat on the face of Rep. Eddy Gonzalez, as he hugged House Speaker Will Weatherford, spoke volumes as the team's stadium effort failed.
Gonzalez, R-Hialeah, had been the Dolphins' chief ally in the Florida House. Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, turned out to be the team's nemesis.
"Okay, members," Weatherford said at 6:57 p.m. "We're done."
Lawmakers ended the 60-day legislative session without approving a deal to provide taxpayer support for a $350 million upgrade of Sun Life Stadium. With last-minute amendments and late-game Hail Marys, the Dolphins held out until the final hour.
But a deal was not to be had, as Weatherford rejected the overtures of several lawmakers who pleaded with him to hear the bill. The House instead killed the stadium effort without a vote.
The effects of the Tallahassee non-deal quickly rippled down the state to South Florida.
A Miami-Dade referendum vote scheduled for May 14 will likely be called off and tens of thousands of early ballots cast over the issue will be thrown out.
The bill was one of the most politically dramatic measures of the 60-day legislative session and the odds were always tough for the privately owned stadium.
"It looks bleak," Sen. Oscar Braynon, a Miami Gardens Democrat sponsoring the Dolphins' effort, said Friday as the proposal was on life support. He, too, tried to lobby Weatherford on the floor of the House.
Haunted by the specter of a widely panned 2009 Miami Marlins stadium deal and cries of "corporate welfare," the Dolphins faced a herculean task of getting lawmakers across the state to agree to their proposed deal. It didn't help that the loudest opponents to the deal were members of the Miami-Dade delegation, who would typically be expected to use their collective power to pass a local bill through the Legislature.
Before failing, the Dolphins mounted an effort of heavy lobbying, private jet trips to Tallahassee, numerous concessions and a little procedural sleight of hand to pull off one of the most contentious legislative feats of the year. While the Senate agreed to support the stadium deal, the team came up short in the House.
The Dolphins' backers were still trying to attach favorable language to several different bills late Friday, a flailing effort to save the stadium upgrade in the waning hours of session.
Senators amended a massive transportation bill to add language related to sports stadiums, but the House — which has played spoiler for the Dolphins throughout the session — refused to bring the bill up for a vote.
The Dolphins were seeking up to $289 million in taxpayer support from an increase in the Miami-Dade hotel tax, from 6 to 7 percent. The proposal also offered the team a shot at up to $90 million in state sales tax rebates. The bill would have allowed other sports organizations to compete for state tax dollars as well.