Florida House Ends Session Without Passing Sun Life Stadium Bill

May 14 Miami-Dade special election has been cancelled

The Florida House ended its legislative session Friday without passing a bill for renovations at Sun Life Stadium.

State lawmakers in Tallahassee had been down to the wire as they had a second bill to consider by the end of the day Friday for the proposed renovations to the Miami Dolphins' stadium. But legislators ended their session without passing any funding plan that would assist the team's quest to refurbish its stadium.

A bill was passed by the Senate last week.

Dolphins owner Stephen Ross blamed House Speaker Will Weatherford for denying Miami-Dade residents a vote on the stadium deal, which he called critical for the future of the local economy. A special election that had been scheduled for May 14, but it's now been cancelled, the county said.

"The speaker singlehandedly put the future of Super Bowls and other big events at risk for Miami-Dade and for all of Florida," Ross said in a statement. "He put politics before the people and the 4,000 jobs this project would have created for Miami-Dade and that is just wrong."

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Ross said he was "deeply disappointed" by Weatherford's decision.

"He gave me and many others his word that this legislation would go to the floor of the House for a vote, where I know, and he knows, we had the votes to win by a margin as large as we did in the Senate," Ross said. "It’s hard to understand why he would stop an election already in process and disenfranchise the 40,000 people who have already voted. I can only assume he felt it was in his political interest to do so. Time will tell if that is the case, but I am certain this decision will follow Speaker Weatherford for many years to come."

Weatherford said in a tweet that it wasn't true that he had promised an up-or-down vote.

In any case, the House — led by Weatherford — refused to bring up the legislation.

Others who lost out included the city of Orlando, which was hoping for help to lure a Major League Soccer team, as well as the Jacksonville Jaguars and Daytona International Speedway. The sports teams were backing the Senate proposal that would have allowed each of them to compete for a share of state tax dollars.

"I think part of the complication was the fact that it wasn't just the Dolphins," Weatherford said. "You had five or six different franchises that were looking for a tax rebate, and that's serious public policy. You're talking about hundreds of millions of dollars and I think the House just never got comfortable there when the session ended."

Miami billionaire activist Norman Braman, one of the most vocal opponents of public funding for the project, defended Weatherford.

“This was welfare for a multibillionaire, that's what the issue was, that's what the leadership in the House saw, and I think we the taxpayers should thank Will Weatherford,” Braman said.

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Amid maneuvering as the session drew to a close, the stadium deal was attached to a transportation bill, team lobbyist Ron Book said. That move re-energized the Dolphins on Friday, he said.

“I think everybody was very excited that we were back really, literally, on the goal line of punching this in, and unfortunately it just didn’t work out," he said. "I think all of us are very, very disappointed at the present time."

The hope of landing another Super Bowl underpinned the Dolphins' proposed renovations to Sun Life. The NFL will announce the locations of the 2016 and 2017 Super Bowls on May 22.

"By failing to allow the stadium referendum in Miami-Dade to go forward, the House leadership has made our efforts to bring the Super Bowl back to Miami and South Florida much more difficult," said Rodney Barreto, the chairman of the South Florida Super Bowl Host Committee, in a statement. "As Commissioner Goodell said recently, not allowing the people of Miami-Dade to decide their own fate on this matter sends the wrong message to the NFL owners at hte worst possible moment."

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Earlier in the day, Sen. Oscar Braynon, one of the bill's sponsors, called the outlook for any bill that helps the Dolphins "bleak" shortly after meeting with Weatherford.

Early voting already began for the Sun Life Stadium referendum, but it will no longer be available as of Saturday, the county said.

However, early voting will continue for municipal elections in North Miami and Sweetwater.

The cost for the proposed renovations is about $350 million dollars. The Dolphins said they would pay for 70 percent of that but want the rest to come from tax breaks.

Under the plan, the hotel bed tax would be raised from 6 percent to 7 percent, with the team getting 75 percent of the revenue from that hike, which is about $7.5 million a year for 26 years. The tourist tax would help the team generate about $289 million.

The Dolphins would be required to pay the county back $120 million in 30 years. The team is paying for more than half of the plan, which includes building a glass roof over the seating area, new lighting, new video screens, and bringing the seats closer to the field.

Ross said he will work to convince fellow NFL owners to bring the Super Bowl back to Miami-Dade in the coming weeks.

Asked if there’s another option for the Dolphins and the stadium deal to get financing and get done in time for the Super Bowls, Book responded, “I think it’s too early for me to make a comment on that, and I think the other team officials will be prepared to comment on that in the near future.”

The county and the team claim Super Bowls bring an estimated economic impact to the area of more than $500 million, but that number is disputed by many economists who say it's much lower.

The team has said the project could bring some 4,000 jobs to Miami-Dade for up to 24 months or until the project is done. At least 70 percent of the jobs will go to Miami-Dade residents, according to the Dolphins. On Thursday, the team held a job fair to fill some of those spots.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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