The Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee yesterday unanimously approved a measure (SB 1216) that would require the state Department of Economic Opportunity to set up an evaluation process for local governments seeking sales-tax rebates to attract or retain professional sports teams through stadium improvements and construction.
However, behind the scenes the story was really about the bitter rivalry between Sen. Jack Latvala versus Sen. Jeff Brandes and other boosters of the City of St. Petersburg.
After the committee was gaveled into session, Sen. Latvala explained the history behind and the content of the proposed bill. He summarized the bill by stating that it “makes all major league sports leagues eligible and provides a structured application process” by which those leagues may earn state funding upon meeting various criteria.
The state currently directs up to $2 million a year in sales tax dollars to each of eight major league sports facilities. They include EverBank Field in Jacksonville, Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Tampa Bay Times Forum in Tampa, BB&T Center in Broward County, Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, American Airlines Arena in Miami, and the Amway Center in Orlando. Also, Sun Life Stadium receives money for improvements done by the Miami Marlins baseball team, a former tenant.
Next, Sen. Latvala explained an amendment by Sen. Jeremy Ring (offered as a courtesy to Sen. Latvala) detailing that it alters and clarifies some definitions, including “beneficiary,” among other improvements. Sen. Nancy Detert expressed concern that the date in the bill was changed solely for the benefit of the Daytona International Speedway in receiving reimbursements for its current expansion project. Sen. Latvala responded that the Speedway would still have to meet the same qualifications in the same manner as everyone else to be able to earn the reimbursement.
Following the description of the first amendment, Sen. Wilton Simpson brought up an amendment to the amendment — one that would add the North American Soccer League (the league that includes the Rowdies soccer club that plays in St. Petersburg) to the pool of potential beneficiaries eligible for state funding.
Sen. Latvala expressed his opposition to the amendment stating that he had not been given sufficient time to properly look it over. He also stated that he was unsure as to what the North American Soccer League was and whether it is classified as a “major league sports league.” Sen. Latvala voiced his opposition and encouraged the committee to vote against the amendment.
Following a vote, the amendment failed. Sens. Abruzzo, Detert, Hays, Margolis, Richter, Ring, Abruzzo, and Detert all followed Sen. Latvala’s request and voted in opposition. Sen Bean, Simpson, Hukill, and Stargel voted yes.
What appeared to be a simple disagreement over policy is much more than that.
Before and after the committee meeting, Sen. Latvala let it be known that he was upset that supporters of the amendment didn’t ask him about the amendment and compared the NASL to “international baseball or the rodeo.”
Unfortunately, Sen. Latvala’s way of getting those in the ‘burg to deal with him is to hold the future of the Rowdies hostage.
Supporters of the three NASL franchises in Florida are hopeful the league can still be added into the stadium subsidy formula, either by the House or in the Senate Appropriations committee.
“We’ve got several stops. This will be one of the last bills that passes,” Sen. Latvala said. “We have a long way to go.”
Unfortunately for soccer fans, Sen. Latvala is also on the committee and it’s likely he will fight any attempt to add in the NASL. That is, unless he receives some local pressure.
Fans of the Rowdies need to contact Sen. Latvala and tell him to stop kicking the team in the grass.
Material from the News Service of Florida was used in this post.