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Front Page » Opinion » Publics Stadium Money Is Going Going Almost Gone

Publics Stadium Money Is Going Going Almost Gone

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Written by on April 1, 2009

A stadium vote costing Miami-Dade residents $2 billion against their will was a foregone conclusion. When, after all, was the last time the county heeded public opinion?

Commissioner Javier Souto, for example, ordered a survey that showed solid stadium opposition in his district — and then shifted sides to vote for the handout to team owners.

Far more distressing was the way commissioners ramrodded the vote through without even pretense of safeguarding the public purse.

Each commissioner was amply aware of pitfalls yawning to snag the county’s bankroll. Even the most ardent supporter could have sought safeguards while still building the Florida Marlins a stadium.

Had commissioners added protections, they could have claimed plausibly that they were voting their conscience. Even residents who detest a $2 billion handout would have grudgingly saluted security.

Instead, those watching last week’s charade gagged when commissioners locked us in without even such minimal precautions as security for team-caused overruns above $20 million as they kept deferring to Marlins executives on the deal’s details.

It brought graphically to mind the two things people with queasy stomachs should never view in action: sausage factories and lawmakers.

As observers said, the fix was in.

Commissioners had been taken care of already. Since the public couldn’t see them meet one on one with team officials, we don’t know what transpired. But the nine who voted yes know what they got.

We don’t allege illegal payoffs. But donations to pet causes or jobs for friendly groups can help commissioners win future elections.

Commissioners underscored that aloud, saying that while they shunned safeguards, they’d already done in private unspecified things to alter the deal.

If you like it, they did it.

And if not, several emphasized, while the contract was far from the best it could be, it wasn’t the worst, so they backed it. Their yardstick: it’s not the worst possible.

Maybe that’s voters’ standard for commissioners, too: they’re not the worst possible. Far from the best, of course, but we know of no graft, so not the worst either. That why we keep reelecting them.

Commission debate was mostly "My mind’s made up — don’t confuse me with the facts."

Carlos Gimenez and Sally Heyman did try to diminish glaring contract flaws, aware that any final deal would pass.

They sought the total the county would pay to fund stadium construction. The county’s key finance official didn’t know. And that was good enough for commissioners to support.

Mr. Gimenez asked if the deal passed, increasing the team’s value immediately by $200 million, and 49% of ownership were then sold, would the county share any profits. County officials said no. And that was good enough for commissioners to support.

Katy Sorenson, who on principle wouldn’t tinker with a giveaway, said that if the team got $12 million a year for naming rights to a county-owned stadium, that alone would far exceed its costs in the deal. Nobody disagreed. And that was good enough for commissioners to support.

Far more came out. But with complicity of the majority, Chairman Dennis Moss ruled that no terms could change, no matter how bad, without the OK of Bruno Barreiro, the measure’s prime sponsor. And Mr. Barreiro rejected each change that Marlins officials didn’t want. He turned to them time and again, asking what to do.

It was much harder on the stomach than seeing sausages made.

Very credulous commissioners voted yes. Several claimed victories based solely on the word of Marlins’ officials, who solemnly assured everyone that they want only what is best for us so no need to put promises on paper.

When asked about a team sale to pocket huge profits after a stadium deal, principal Jeffrey Loria said he had no intent to sell so no need for safeguards. And that was good enough for commissioners to support.

When Mr. Souto sought more money for parks, team President David Samson said he loves parks so no need to put it in the contract. And that was good enough to win the former opponent’s vote.

It’s easy to promise anything if there are no penalties. With our trusting commissioners, no need to write it down. Claims of good intentions are good enough.

Indeed, some commissioners chastised the few who wanted contract protections, saying it was too late because everybody had had a chance to meet with the Marlins in private and get what they wanted without having to resort to public discussion.

The bottom line: I got mine.

Indeed, most supporters were grandstanding. It might be a rotten contract, voters, but Commissioner X took care of you.

So, now that we’ve been steamrolled, is the giveaway assured?

Pretty close. It’s last of the ninth, two out, bases empty, and we’re four runs down. But, as Yogi Berra never said, it’s not over till it’s over.

To build, the county must issue $508 million in bonds. The municipal bond market is roiled, and sales might require that we back bonds with general revenues rather than just taxes on declining tourism.

County Manager George Burgess is in charge. Despite his stadium sellout, he knows finances. And the contract allows him, the mayor or the commission to kill the deal before July 1 for any reason, including inability to bond.

If bond costs exceed ability to repay, Mr. Burgess is stuck unless he fudges the numbers. If to make bonding possible the county would have to rape general revenues, he would no doubt defer to his boss, Mayor Carlos Alvarez. Just maybe, even a mayor who is the county’s Mr. Stadium could see the wisdom of calling a halt.

The economy, of course, should long ago have ended this farce. The fact that, even in dire straits, officials perpetrated a $2 billion giveaway of vital tourism funds borders on malfeasance.

But the county is very willing to strip us bare to hand cash to those who least need it during a financial crisis. So don’t bet on winning this one in a string of heroic last-out at-bats.

Get set to chalk this stadium up in the public’s loss column.