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AFP-Florida warns Tampa Bay lawmakers to not use taxpayer funds for potential Rays stadium

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

Americans for Prosperity Florida is calling on lawmakers from both sides of Tampa Bay not to use public taxpayer dollars in the financing of any potential new stadium for the Tampa Bay Rays.

“As the Rays search for a potential new sandlot to call home, their focus should steer clear of calling on taxpayers to sacrifice anymore, ” said AFPF state director Chris Hudson.

His statement comes on the same day that the Tampa Bay Times published a front-page story on the latest discussions that the ball club with officials from Hillsborough County on Tuesday regarding potential sites for a new park.  The Rays refused to acknowledge what sites were discussed, but the Times reports that up to nine different potential locations were mentioned.

One important item that rarely gets discussed in this continuing drama, which has gone on since the previous decade when the Rays declared they didn’t see a future for themselves at Tropicana Field, is how much this stadium will ultimately cost, and more importantly, who will pay for it.

“Major League Baseball has a rich history in Florida, but that history has been marred by greedy franchise owners and misinformed elected officials that have raided taxpayer coffers to the detriment of the communities that house these teams,” said Hudson. “Local officials need to stand by their citizens and disregard any attempts by MLB teams, like the Rays, that use faulty expectations and more broken promises.”

Rays management suggested several years ago that they would be able to front approximately a third of the costs of a new stadium, which could ultimately cost more than $600 million to construct. If that were the case, the community would be responsible for raising the additional $400 million.

While naming rights could reduce that amount, it seems inevitable that taxpayers would still be called on to foot the rest of the bill. Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and other local officials have mentioned several funding possibilities in the past, including accessing hotel bed taxes and, if the stadium were placed in a certain part of Tampa, accessing community redevelopment agency funds.

Lawmakers have been reluctant to say that they would call for a referendum, a la the 1996 Community Investment Tax. That tax included funding for education and public infrastructure facilities, but was the main vehicle to help pay for the entire construction of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers stadium.

“It is unfair to ask taxpayers to help a sports club enrich itself at the expense of real community infrastructure needs,” said AFP’s Hudson.

AFP Florida has been leading the charge in Tallahassee over the past few years to deny government subsidies for sports facilities, luring Hollywood productions, and recruiting businesses to Florida vis a vis Enterprise Florida.

They were unpersuasive, however, in getting members of the Tampa City Council, the Hillsborough County Commission and the Tampa Sports Authority to reject funding renovations to Raymond James Stadium and Steinbrenner Field in recent months.

“At what point have taxpayers finally given enough?” Hudson asks. “County and city officials in the Tampa Bay area need to get a grip on the real priorities facing their communities, and allow wealthy team owners to fend for themselves because the money they are promising doesn’t belong to them – it belongs to taxpayers.”

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Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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