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Front Page » Opinion » Call To Bullpen For Stadium Fiscal Relief Too Late Games Over

Call To Bullpen For Stadium Fiscal Relief Too Late Games Over

Written by on October 14, 2010

By Michael Lewis
A futile squeeze play slid onto the county’s lineup card this week.

It’s aim: get Florida Marlins owners to voluntarily toss back to taxpayers some of the $3 billion stadium homerun that officials yielded.

Shell-shocked commissioners have just realized that the public is a teensy bit upset about knuckling under to baseball’s most profitable team in a double play with a huge property tax increase while jobs disappear and property values crumble.

As recall efforts seek to eject the mayor and five commissioners, some of them suddenly noticed that saddling taxpayers with economic burdens for decades to help multi-millionaires who won’t pay the county a penny after a stadium is built wasn’t their shining hour.

That reality hasn’t yet dawned on the stubborn mayor, who with his bull pen stands behind the $3 billion giveaway as firmly as he still claims that his tax hikes — including a 56% increase for bonds that will raise $50 million more for the Marlins deal — were no tax increase at all.

But some commissioners have a stronger instinct for self-preservation. They see the handwriting on the stadium wall — and fear the handwriting on the recall petition.

So now they find yielding $3 billion during the worst recession since the 1930s a bit unseemly. It wasn’t clear then, but with voters now howling they’re hearing the catcalls.

And so, this week the commission’s Budget, Planning and Sustainability Committee was to hear a request for a replay, through it passed the item by.

Never mind that they’re dealing with ironclad legal contracts that bind taxpayers past 2040 to keep paying off that $3 billion stadium cost. They still plan to ask the Marlins to return some of the largesse.

Good luck, folks, but don’t bet on it. Ordering the mayor to reopen talks with the Marlins implies some propensity on the other side to give away money a contract guarantees them.

That other side is Jeffrey Loria and Co., the only baseball team that has an internal corporation to funnel shareholders’ money to the chairman and president for unspecified services. Cheap could be their middle name.

It would be easier to get the Tea Party to fund an Obama election campaign than to get the Marlins to yield $50 million from bonds the county has yet to put into the stadium kitty.

But that’s what Commissioners Sally Heyman and Javier Souto seek: warm up the mayor or county manager or office boy to use the left hand with the Marlins and get some fiscal relief.

Not that they aren’t right. They’re $3 billion right. The giveaway was the county’s biggest boondoggle ever. (Yes, I include the $7 billion airport money pit. At least government controls the airport, whereas Loria and Co. will control the county-owned stadium and pocket almost every penny of income.)

The effort to get the Marlins to voluntarily yield a sliver of a $3 billion commission-tendered gift from taxes belonging to you and me and our children is certainly Quixotic — no larger windmill was ever tilted at.

But probable failure is not the reason the commission won’t line up behind this feeble attempt at a tiny measure of justice.

To move ahead would be to acknowledge the obvious: that the stadium deal smelled like a long-dead fish from day one.

But nine commissioners enthusiastically joined the mayor and manager in making the worst county deal on record. Asking for a rebate would acknowledge how wrong they were.

When did you last hear a Miami-Dade commissioner admit that?

So commissioners are caught between the rock-solid Marlins contract and the hard place voters plan to put some of them in with a recall election.

The choice is whether to beg the Marlins for a tiny refund and admit a major-league error on baseball or stick to their tattered story that a $3 billion giveaway helped get Miami-Dade’s floundering economy back on track.

Imagine the perspective of Mayor Alvarez: facing a recall battle, could he dare defend his pet stadium deal once again while pitching fruitlessly to the Marlins to give back some of our massive gift?

With these political barriers, don’t count on stadium negotiations going into extra innings. Public interest struck out. The game is over.

The Marlins can chalk $3 billion up in the win column.