Bill aims to force voter OK on publicly-built stadiums
By Risa Polansky
Even if local elected officials OK a deal for a new Florida Marlins ballpark this month, state law could require voter approval should a push by a local lawmaker gain momentum in the Legislature.
Rep. Richard L. Steinberg of Miami Beach is seeking passage of a bill that would require a referendum before local governments spend on professional sports teams — and proposing it apply to all deals signed after March 4.
The Miami City Commission is set to vote on the largely publicly funded Marlins stadium deal March 19 and Miami-Dade County March 23, more than two weeks after Mr. Steinberg's proposed cutoff date.
He's looking to amend an existing bill that would apply to all sports team deals inked after July 1.
Mr. Steinberg hopes to push up the cutoff so the referendum law would apply also to proposed Marlins ballpark plans.
"I realized that it [the proposed bill] only applied to deals that were entered after July 1," he said — meaning the local stadium deal "would get in under the wire and not give the public the right to vote."
According to a county financing plan for the $629-plus million stadium deal, it could cost about $1.8 billion in public funding to repay bonds over the next 40 years.
"I think the community has a right to be heard before we bootstrap government with such a liability to be paid by our children for decades to come," Mr. Steinberg said.
Bradenton Sen. Michael S. Bennett said the same in filing the original Senate bill in December.
"I think it's a matter of fairness" to have a referendum before spending public money on sports teams, Mr. Bennett said at the time.
His measure — and its twin bill in the House — calls also for some private entities to pay taxes even if their facilities sit on normally tax-exempt government owned land.
The proposed retractable-roof Marlins ballpark is set to be built on the site of the old Orange Bowl in Miami's Little Havana.
Similar measures have failed in the Legislature in the past.
"I've tried this bill for a couple of years," Mr. Bennett said in December, but Miami legislators "have just about always been able to keep it from going forward."
This version has picked up some momentum since he filed it Dec. 23.
Rep. Eduardo "Eddy" Gonzalez of Hialeah Gardens in early January filed a House bill identical to Mr. Bennett's proposed Senate measure.
Both were heard on first reading last week and have been referred to committees, where Mr. Steinberg's amendment for the March cutoff date is to be considered.
From there, the measure would need full House and Senate approval.
The Marlins deal could have been home free had scheduled Feb. 13 city and county votes gone as planned.
Miami commissioners beginning that morning deliberated for more than seven hours before deadlocking.
Since, the city has switched its continuation date three times.
The meeting is set now for March 19, followed by a county meeting four days later.