Some Dade Commissioners Say Florida Marlins Deal Leaves Taxpayer Dollars Exposed
Written by Risa Polansky on March 26, 2009
By Risa Polansky
In approving a retractable-roof stadium for the soon-to-be Miami Marlins, some Miami-Dade commissioners say the local governments left their bases uncovered.
Excluding explicit safeguards for taxpayer dollars from the largely publicly financed deal is "like a batter refusing to wear a helmet," stadium opponent Sally Heyman said during Monday’s debate.
Ms. Heyman, along with Carlos Gimenez, tried to incorporate several amendments into the deal, all designed to strengthen it for the county and protect taxpayers, they said.
But stadium supporter Bruno Barreiro — who, as the legislation’s sponsor was the sole decider on proposed amendments — left them largely shut out.
The $633 million-plus ballpark construction deal calls for about $478 million in public funding, mostly from bonds backed by tourist tax revenue.
It leaves open the door to use general revenue to fill funding gaps and names the general fund as a secondary pledge on bonds, which some county estimates show could cost about $1.8 billion to pay off over the next few decades.
Both Mr. Gimenez and Ms. Heyman tried to amend the deal to take general funds out of the picture, but Mr. Barreiro refused.
Several commissioners asked the administration for assurance that general revenues would remain untouched, especially given that tourist tax collections have plummeted in a down economy.
Mayor Carlos Alvarez said life comes with no guarantees.
"Nobody can guarantee. I’m not guaranteeing it, the manager’s not going to guarantee it," he said.
Both he and County Manager George Burgess stressed, however, that they believe use of general revenues is unlikely.
Joe Martinez, who voted against the ballpark, wasn’t convinced.
"The possibility does exist, remote as it may be in your mind, very possible as it may be in mine…. We may have to dip into general funds," he said.
Mr. Gimenez complained the county is completely in the dark when it comes to the Marlins’ finances.
He pushed to hire an independent auditor to investigate and ensure the team is good for its $154 million share but struck out.
Mr. Barreiro also blocked Mr. Gimenez’s attempt to change what’s been branded the "death clause," which would cut the governments out of any profit-sharing should team owner Jeffrey Loria die and heirs sell the team.
Mr. Gimenez warned also that Mr. Loria could sell the team in pieces over time, pocketing profits and leaving the county and city with nothing.
Several amendments passed the Barreiro test, many dealing with local and small business participation.
And commissioners at the meeting did secure some spoken commitments from the Marlins, including Mr. Loria assuring he has no plans to sell the team — "double absolutely not," he said — and President David Samson’s pledge to include more local workers than the 50% the deal calls for.
"We are trying to get as close to 100% as possible," he said.
Commissioner Katy Sorenson, another stadium opponent, warned colleagues not to count on promises.
She offered no amendments, calling attempts to tweak the deal rather than kill it "putting lipstick on a fish."