Super Bowl taxes squad tries end run to score on tourists
By Michael Lewis
If you're among our 100,000-plus Super Bowl guests, here's a friendly Miami greeting: Pro football wants to raise your tab.
Oh, you get a pass this visit. But return anytime — on business, to see friends, vacation or even for the next Super Bowl — and you're targeted to pay more hotel tax, courtesy of the NFL.
And please remember, they're doing it just for your comfort.
Although the big game is in our dry season, about every tenth Super Bowl game here it might rain, and the league knows you snowy north fans couldn't stand it.
So they're urging a billionaire owner and his multi-millionaire sidekicks to spend a quarter of a billion to partially cover their stadium even though the owners swear they don't want a roof for their Dolphins games.
Apparently, when they bought the stadium a year ago they didn't do what every condo buyer must: plan for not just mortgage and maintenance costs but also special assessments. They got one and they're looking to Someone Else to pay.
That's because the league warns we might not get more Super Bowls if we don't keep you dry, though February averages just a drop over 2 inches of rain. Oh, and, while we're at it, add better lighting for television and 3,000 very pricey new seats.
While the stadium owners swear they aren't asking for the revamp that would add $250 million to their holdings' value at public cost, they've been quietly lobbying to raise visitor taxes to fund it just after prior owner H. Wayne Huizenga paid that much for one out of his pocket.
But why dig into your own pocket, however deep, if Someone Else can pay?
Welcome to Miami, Someone Else. So glad you're here.
Now, Mr. Else (most Elses at the game are male; if you're Ms. Else, we apologize), you're already paying hefty taxes to visit.
First, there's Miami-Dade's 7% sales tax on your hotel room and almost everything else.
Next come the so-called bed taxes.
Unless you happen to be in Bal Harbour or Surfside, you're paying a 3% Convention Development Tax.
And if you're not staying in either place or Miami Beach, you're also kicking in a 2% Tourist Development Tax, plus a 1% Professional Sports Facilities Franchise Tax that already funds our stadiums and arenas.
So you're already paying at least a 13% tax on your room every day.
But not enough of those taxes is left for a partial roof on the mecca that the first owner funded on his own as Joe Robbie Stadium.
The new owners don't want to spend when the Else family can do it for them. They want the legislature to raise bed tax rates an undisclosed amount to let them dig deeper into Someone Else's wallet.
Timing is key, a pro-roof lobbying team tells us, because the league needs us to commit by April, when it names the 2014 game site. No roof, they threaten, and we might be rained out of the pick.
Major League Baseball threw that same deadline screwball at Miami time and again until we handed the Marlins $3 billion to build a better ballpark and escape the 22-year-old stadium where you'll sit Sunday to see the Super Bowl.
By the way, it's now Sun Life Stadium. The owners just cut a naming deal for up to $7.5 million a year that could help fund a roof and upgrades. But, Mr. Else, better you than they.
Timing of a Someone Else play for money, however, couldn't be worse.
While the recession has hit billionaire team owner Steve Ross's real estate investments, Someone Else all over the world has been hammered too.
Meanwhile, Miami-Dade County has only felt the leading edge of the financial whirlwind from Haiti's disaster. We will be called on to help — as we must — far more than any US region.
That will be doubly painful, because this county, which was due to balance its annual budget by last Oct. 1, is many millions short as labor talks lag. In the interim, we've added about $57 million in above-budget pay to the illegal and ever-growing deficit.
And we can't count on a bailout from Florida, which fears a coming $3 billion deficit itself.
With so many cupboards bare, no wonder the football superpowers are looking to Someone Else to pay for a supposed need that most of us see as a luxury gift tax.
Gosh, if they want a covered stadium with good lighting, Miami-Dade is now building one at the old Orange Bowl stadium site. It belongs to the public — but will the Florida Marlins allow its use for a Super Bowl?
No, Mr. Else, you're it. Uncle NFL needs you to enlist and contribute far more than your share. And our football-crazed legislature is so distant from fiscal reality that it might cave in and target our golden-egg visitors as the go-to wallet.
Now, Mr. Else, we know adding $10 to above $130 in daily tax that you're now paying won't keep you away from a Super Bowl. You'll just spend it in taxes instead of taxis, or stores, or restaurants
And you'll find more room in stores and restaurants if you return, because folks may bypass Miami if tax bills get that high and they're getting nothing to show for it.
But you are. Even in a once-in-40-years Super Bowl downpour, you'll be nice and dry in the stadium, whatever it happens to be named if we get the game back courtesy of that extra tax you'll pay.
Isn't the National Football League thoughtful?