Rep. Gonzalez vows to kill move for Marlins referendum
By Risa Polansky
A proposed Florida House bill calling for referendums on publicly funded deals with sports teams will not stand in the way of a new Marlins stadium, its sponsor vows.
Rep. Eduardo "Eddy" Gonzalez of Hialeah Gardens, House sponsor of the proposed measure, says he'll "do everything possible" to block Miami Beach Rep. Richard L. Steinberg's move to include the Marlins deal in the bill.
Mr. Gonzalez's version would apply to pacts signed after July 1, well past Miami and Miami-Dade commissioners' scheduled votes on March 19 and March 23, respectively, on the proposed Marlins deal.
Mr. Steinberg is working to amend the bill to move the cutoff up to March 4 to ensure a countywide vote on the local ballpark deal.
Not going to happen, Mr. Gonzalez insisted.
"I will be completely opposed to Steinberg's amendment on that bill," he said.
"Our community back home has already spent too many tax dollars on the Marlins to go back to square one."
The local governments unveiled the framework to the proposed $629 million-plus stadium deal in February of last year and have been working on definitive contracts since.
County Manager George Burgess unveiled those in January after a summer spent in court defending the deal against civic leader Norman Braman, who struck out in pushing for a public vote.
Miami commissioners considered the contracts at a meeting last month and deadlocked.
They're scheduled to vote again this week. The county is to follow the week after.
Taxpayers are set to pay more than $478 million in hard costs to build the ballpark.
It could cost about $1.8 billion in public funding to repay bonds over the next 40 years, according to county financing projections for the stadium deal.
Even if the deal does not go through, Miami-Dade faces exposure of up to $7 million from money already spent on the project.
Miami-Dade residents would make that call if Mr. Steinberg succeeds in amending the proposed state bill and both the House and Senate pass it.
"I realized that it [the proposed bill] only applied to deals that were entered after July 1," meaning the local stadium deal "would get in under the wire and not give the public the right to vote," Mr. Steinberg said last week.
But, Mr. Gonzalez said, if anything that would jeopardize the Marlins deal comes into play, "I will personally table that bill or kill it myself."
He filed the bill in late January, about a month after Bradenton Sen. Michael S. Bennett filed an identical measure in the Senate.
Mr. Gonzalez said he agreed to back the bill on the House side "because the Marlins were not in it."
He's supporting requiring referendums on future deals with sports teams "because of the economic downturn."
If down the line other local governments proposing spending public dollars on professional sports teams, voters should have a say, Mr. Gonzalez said.
"This [bill] is looking forward, not looking backward. I would certainly not do anything retroactive."