Pro sports teams and the Daytona International Speedway will get millions in taxpayer help under a bill signed Friday by Gov. Rick Scott.
Scott's decision to give a boost to the pro teams, including budding Major League Soccer franchises, came over the objections of tea party groups that supported his maverick run for governor four years ago. It also comes a year after the owner of the Miami Dolphins failed to get financial help to upgrade SunLife Stadium in a push to attract another Super Bowl to the region.
The new law (HB 7095) would establish a pool of $13 million in taxpayer-supported subsidies that could be spent each year, with no team receiving more than $3 million a year. But the subsidies could then be in place for decades. The projects must cost a minimum of $100 million to qualify for the help. Proposals will be evaluated and ranked before they are approved.
"This sports development program will allow franchises to expand in Florida, and create more jobs and opportunities for Florida families," Scott said in a written statement.
Florida already gives out millions each year to pro sports franchises, but Scott backed the proposal because it includes requirements that teams would have to repay the state if certain conditions aren't met.
The new law also would require Major League Baseball to change its policy on Cuban players if the Marlins and Rays want a share of the state money set aside for stadiums.
With the exception of Canada, residents of foreign nations can negotiate with all 30 baseball teams before signing a contract, but teams aren't allowed to negotiate with Cuban players if they remain in that country because of the U.S. embargo of the communist island. And Cuban players are subject to the amateur draft if they come directly to the U.S., potentially costing them tens of millions of dollars. That's why Cuban players seek to establish residency in a third country first, often at great risk.
Los Angeles Dodgers' outfielder Yasiel Puig's dangerous escape from Cuba to Mexico inspired the conditions the law places on baseball stadium construction money.
Two of the most likely immediate beneficiaries of the legislation will be the soccer team coming to Orlando and the iconic racetrack in Daytona. The track owners last year began a $400 million overhaul called "Daytona Rising."
"Our local supporters and community partners worked hard during the last legislative session to help keep millions of dollars in new tax revenues in our region," said International Speedway Corp. CEO Lesa France Kennedy. "By setting up an equitable process for facilities to partner with the state, this law sets the framework to potentially provide additional capital for the Daytona Rising project, allowing us to build upon the already massive economic benefits to the state."
The proposal, however, drew fire from some groups. Americans for Prosperity Florida urged Scott to veto the bill. The group's June letter said using public funds to renovate and build sports facilities was "irresponsible use of tax dollars" and opposed by most Floridians.