Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Lawmaker proposes bill to require referendum for sports stadiums

ST. PETERSBURG — Public money should never be used for professional sports stadiums unless voters agree to tax themselves.

That's the stance taken by state Sen. Michael Bennett, R-Bradenton, who filed a bill this week that would require referendum approval before any state, county, municipal or tourist tax money could be used to support professional teams.

The bill would also require owners of professional sports stadiums to pay property taxes, even if that owner is a public body.

"Why should we take tax money and pay for stadiums owned by billionaires who are paying some of their people $40 million a year?" Bennett asked on Friday.

Bennett introduced a similar bill two years ago, but it didn't make it out of committee. Miami-Dade legislators opposed it, he said, because the Marlins were angling for a new stadium.

"I think this is the year to do it," Bennett said. "The economy is in the tank. People don't want their tax money used for frivolous things. There's an antitax mood out there. I think I've got a big shot."

In the Tampa Bay area, where the Rays have angled for a new stadium, reaction ranged from support to outrage.

State Sen. Dennis Jones, R-Treasure Island, said he would vote for the bill.

"In this economy we are in right now, to use your taxes for stadiums, you ought to have a say," Jones said. "We are cutting programs right now that have served our communities for years, like schools. When you see some of the salaries ballplayers are paid … if you can pay that kind of money on salaries, you ought to pay for the upgrade of these facilities."

St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster said the Rays may eventually need a new stadium, though not anytime soon. If a future financing plan included city tax money, Foster said, that should first be approved by St. Petersburg voters.

In the 1980s and '90s, city taxes financed about 40 to 45 percent of the construction and upgrading of Tropicana Field — without a public referendum. Many voters still seethe that they never got a chance to vote on those deals.

Tourist development taxes, levied on hotel beds and rental cars, "are a different animal," Foster said. They are often critical to stadium construction. They covered about 40 to 45 percent of the Trop costs and also underwrote Raymond James Stadium, the St. Pete Times Forum and area spring training stadiums.

"I don't know that we need the Legislature to dictate to (county) tourist development boards how their tourist taxes should be spent," Foster said. "That's a deal killer for me."

Adding a few million dollars a year in property taxes to stadium operating costs "will change the face of professional sports venues for the entire state," Foster said.

State Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, worried about the bill's impact on spring training, where tourist taxes and other public money built almost all the state's stadiums. And municipal owners of those stadiums don't pay property taxes.

Latvala compared Bennett's bill to Gov. Rick Scott's recent decision to reject federal funding for high-speed rail.

"There is a proven, unquestionable economic development impact of spring training stadiums," he said. "This has been a bad week. We are rolling up the sidewalks on ourselves as a state."

Spring training "is part of our heritage and quality of life and recruiting tourists during the month of March. If you drive around Dunedin, you will see a tremendous number of Canadian license plates from people who come down to see the Blue Jays. They eat in restaurants and sleep in hotels. All of which adds jobs. That would certainly have a chilling effect on job creation."

Asked about spring training, Bennett acknowledged that Florida has recently lost teams to Arizona cities that built facilities.

"How many baseball teams can Arizona support?" he said. "You really think any team is going to give up a major media market like Tampa Bay or Miami? I'd call their bluff. If they say they are going to leave, I would say, "Don't let the door hit you in the butt.' "

Craig Sher, a Sembler Co. executive who has advocated for building the Rays a new stadium in the Tampa Bay area, called the bill ludicrous.

The property tax exemption, which lowers the cost of stadium deals, "is a no-brainer," Sher said. "If a public body owns a facility, I can't think of another case where they would have to pay property taxes. You build schools. You build performing art centers that the public doesn't get to vote on. Isolating sports facilities is wrong."

If St. Petersburg or Tampa or any local government wants to hold a referendum before committing public money, that's fine, Sher said. "But let's not mandate a referendum. If we want to keep sports here in our community, mandates like that tend to drive people away. We should do everything we can to keep them here. Not push them away."

Rays executive Michael Kalt declined to comment.

Lawmaker proposes bill to require referendum for sports stadiums 02/18/11 [Last modified: Friday, February 18, 2011 11:11pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. In advertising, marketing diversity needs a boost in Tampa Bay, nationally


    TAMPA — Trimeka Benjamin was focused on a career in broadcast journalism when she entered Bethune-Cookman University.

    From left, Swim Digital marketing owner Trimeka Benjamin discusses the broad lack of diversity in advertising and marketing with 22 Squared copywriter Luke Sokolewicz, University of Tampa advertising/PR professor Jennifer Whelihan, Rumbo creative director George Zwierko and Nancy Vaughn of the White Book Agency. The group recently met at The Bunker in Ybor City.
  2. Kushner to testify before two intelligence committees


    WASHINGTON— President Donald Trump's senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner is set to make a second appearance on Capitol Hill — he will speak with the House Intelligence Committee on Tuesday, one day after he is scheduled to speak with Senate Intelligence Committee investigators behind closed doors.

    White House senior adviser Jared Kushner is scheduled to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee and the House Intelligence Committee. [Associated Press]
  3. Rays blow lead in ninth, lose in 10 to Rangers (w/video)

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — Rays manager Kevin Cash liked the way Alex Cobb was competing Friday night. He liked the way the hard contact made by the Rangers batters went away after the second or third inning. So as the game headed toward the ninth, there was no doubt in Cash's mind that sending Cobb back to the mound was …

    Rays starter Alex Cobb can hardly believe what just happened as he leaves the game in the ninth after allowing a leadoff double then a tying two-run homer to the Rangers’ Shin-Soo Choo.
  4. Exhumation of Dalí's remains finds his mustache still intact


    FIGUERES, Spain — Forensic experts in Spain have removed hair, nails and two long bones from Salvador Dalí's embalmed remains to aid a court-ordered paternity test that may enable a woman who says she is the surrealist artist's daughter to claim part of Dalí's vast estate.

    Salvador Dal? died in 1989 leaving vast estate.
  5. Sessions discussed Trump campaign-related matters with Russian ambassador, U.S. intelligence intercepts show


    WASHINGTON — Russia's ambassador to Washington told his superiors in Moscow that he discussed campaign-related matters, including policy issues important to Moscow, with Jeff Sessions during the 2016 presidential race, contrary to public assertions by the embattled attorney general, current and former U.S. …

    Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from the Russia investigation after meetings with an ambassador were revealed.