2013 Legislative Winners & Losers: Dolphins, NASCAR, Major League Soccer, pro sports stadiums

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Rummaging through the entire playbook wasn’t enough for the Miami Dolphins to advance past the former college linebacker running the Florida House.

A pair of last ditch measures tied to potential funding proposals involving the Dolphins, Jacksonville’s EverBank Field, Orlando’s Major League Soccer push and the Daytona International Speedway died in the House as the 2013 Legislative regular session came to a close on Friday.

“I think part of the complication was the fact that it wasn’t just the Dolphins,” House Speaker Will Weatherford said. “You had five or six different franchises that were looking for a tax rebate. And, you know, that’s serious public policy. You’re talking about hundreds of millions of dollars. I think the House just never got comfortable there when the session ended.”

The death of the bill spells the end of a May 14 referendum in Miami-Dade County – early voting had started April 29 – on a proposed increase to the hotel bed tax that was to help the Dolphins pay for $350 million in upgrades to Sun Life Stadium.

Sen. Oscar Braynon, the sponsor of the Senate effort, said Weatherford rejected the proposal.

“He didn’t have a will to do it,” said Braynon. “We voted for it. We sent it over three times. It didn’t get brought up. Whose fault is that?”

Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross didn’t hold back in his disappointment Friday, saying Weatherford had given his word the proposal would be heard on the floor.

“The Speaker single-handedly put the future of Super Bowls and other big events at risk for Miami Dade and for all of Florida,” Ross said in a release. “He put politics before the people and the 4,000 jobs this project would have created for Miami-Dade and that is just wrong.”

Weatherford, a one-time defensive player at Jacksonville University, said “no one blocked the stadium” issue, and tweeted “Not true!” in response to Ross’ comment. The tweet was later removed, but had already been retweeted.

Ross, who vowed to “play an important role in fixing the dysfunction in Tallahassee,” also claimed the proposal would have had the votes to advance.

“It’s hard to understand why he would stop an election already in process and disenfranchise the 40,000 people who have already voted,” Ross continued. “I can only assume he felt it was in his political interest to do so. Time will tell if that is the case, but I am certain this decision will follow Speaker Weatherford for many years to come.”

Dolphins’ management had said the improvements are needed to attract premier football and soccer events to the Miami Gardens stadium, including their bids to land either the 2016 or 2017 Super Bowl.

With lobbyists busy working the rotunda between the House and Senate chambers, a number of senators gathered with Weatherford on the House floor Friday morning and afternoon imploring him to bring up either of the last minute proposals for the stadiums.

Sens. Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, David Simmons, R-Maitland, and Braynon all made appearances Friday morning in the House to talk with Weatherford, as the measure (SB 1828) languished in messages from the Senate.

Sen. Chris Smith, R-Fort Lauderdale, joked that they couldn’t break Weatherford stance even if they included language into the bill requiring the Dolphins to find a roster spot for former Florida State University quarterback Drew Weatherford, the House Speaker’s brother.

The stadium proposal had been crafted by Gardiner and amended to the initial measure (SB 306) for the Dolphins that was approved by the Senate on April 29.

Gardiner’s proposal would require the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity to prepare an annual list of teams, spring training sites and professional sports franchises seeking assistance from the state. That list would be ranked based upon economic impacts and then sent to the Legislature for a final vote on funding from a pool of up to $13 million a year.

When that measure failed to reach the House floor, the Senate on Thursday attached the proposal on to a tourist development tax measure (SB 1828). 

On Friday, the proposal was tacked on to a sweeping transportation bill (HB 7127) without language to support the referendum.

The referendum was expected to pump $280 million towards the Dolphins over 30 years.

Rep. Erik Fresen, R-Miami, one of the sponsors of the Dolphins proposal on the House side, supported Weatherford, saying the Senate’s final effort was too overloaded. 

“That had a lot of problems, not only because of the Dolphins, but procedurally,” Fresen said. “They had changed the name of entire package, turned a department package into an economic development package. It was a lot of 11th hour stuff that the speaker wasn’t going to take. “

The Dolphins had hoped to bring the transportation bill to the floor, where a backer could have immediately called for a discussion on the referendum language that would limit debate and require an up or down vote from members.

Material from the News Service of Florida was used in this post.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.