Crisafulli vs. Corcoran at heart stadium funding debate

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It might not be a true Florida “Subway Series,’’ but the debate over taxpayer money for stadium projects has all the makings of a big league rivalry.

After a half-hour of discussion, the bill modifying the process of assigning state money to sports stadium projects statewide seems to have struck out in the Senate, but a ninth-inning rally will likely happen.

Senate President Don Gaetz temporary postponed the controversial measure sponsored by Sen. Jack Latvala. Gaetz said he was “getting mixed signals” from lawmakers.

This new development also highlights an interesting legislative heavyweight faceoff during the final 24 hours of the 2014 legislative session between incoming House Speaker-Designate Steve Crisafulli and Speaker To-Be-Designate Richard Corcoran.

Crisafulli has led House negotiations to finalize legislation establishing an application process for professional sports franchises to request annual sales tax credit for capital construction on sports stadiums. Corcoran has opposed the measure.

Like fervent New York baseball fans who are fiercely loyal to a single team – either Mets or Yankees — sports stadium financing legislation provides its own rivalry, with supporters and opponents on either side of the issue.

The Senate measure requires the Department of Economic Opportunity to evaluate projects on the economic impact. Priority would go to projects involving at least $100 million in construction, and the DEO would favor new franchises.

“Everybody has an equal chance to apply and that takes a lot of the politics and special interests out of it,” Latvala said just before the postponement, reports Tonya Alanez of the Orlando Sentinel.

The bill would affect plans for Major League Soccer stadiums in both Orlando and Miami, in addition to the renovations Daytona International Speedway, which are already under way.

Millions in sales-tax rebates already go to MLB, NFL, NBA and NHL teams, and franchises like the Florida Marlins and Miami Dolphins look to Tallahassee every year for more.

According to Alanez, the legislation would target projects valued at $200 million or more, making them eligible for up to $3 million a year, while projects valued between $200 and $100 million could get up to $2 million a year. Projects valued less than $100 million would be eligible for up to $1 million annually.

Last week, the House passed their version (HB 7095) by a 93-16 vote.

If passed, teams and other facilities would compete for $12 million a year, including MLS expansion franchises, Daytona Speedway, rodeos and minor-league baseball.

Adding to the drama, Alanez writes, was the last minute amendment filed by Sen. Anitere Flores, who added the provision that major or minor league baseball teams would be prohibited competition for state dollars unless the MLB changes its policy to protect Cuban refugees.

The last-minute change was Inspired by the story Los Angeles Dodgers star player Yasiel Puig, who described how he left Cuba aided by a Mexican drug cartel, which demanded 20 percent of his major league earnings as ransom. The cartel threatened to break his legs if Puig did not pay up.

“Major league baseball either knowingly, or perhaps unknowingly, has been part of what has essentially become a major human-trafficking scheme,” Flores told the Senate during the debate. “We have an incredible opportunity to right this wrong saying: ‘This is something we’re not going to allow anymore.’”

As the Legislature enters its final inning of 2014, all that is left is to stay tuned.

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.