By signing stadium-subsidy bill, does Rick Scott risk alienating his base?

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One of the most closely watched issues of the 2014 Legislative Session was how to best streamline the process to allocate tax dollars to  professional sports facilities.

HB 7095 was passed by the Florida Legislature and allows money to be available annually for the major sports leagues, along with Major League Soccer, the North American Soccer League, NASCAR, the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, hosts of the Breeders’ Cup horse races and minor-league baseball facilities.

The bill requires the Department of Economic Opportunity to evaluate economic viability and rank funding proposals before lawmakers are asked to approve sales-tax dollars for multimillion-dollar construction projects and improvements.

The intent of bill is to remove some of the politics from the lobbyist-centric which-sports-franchises-receive-how-much-money process.

“This chamber runs better when there is a process that is not controlled and dictated by the quality or the power of the lobbyist hired to push the stadium subsidy and when it has to go through a budgeting process,” said Rep. James Grant.

While Grant may be right about how to improve the efficiency of the legislative process, what he and other lawmakers did not address is whether government should be handing out subsidies to billionaire sports franchise owners in the first place. Make no mistake, that’s what this bill is really about: government welfare for billionaires like Miami Dolphins’ owner Stephen Ross.

“It is a subsidy, and that is what it is, this is a process, absolutely, it’s a process that allows the tax break Olympics to begin and kick off in 2015,” Rep. Jose Javier Rodriguez said.

Governor Rick Scott’s administration has already signaled its intent to sign HB 7095 when it lands on the governor’s desk.

Scott spokesman John Tupps said in an email that the governor “looks forward to signing this legislation.”

“This economic development bill creates a process that measures return on investment to help protect Florida’s taxpayers,” Tupps said.

But by signing this legislation, does Rick Scott (further) risk alienating his Republican and Tea Party base?

Last year, one of the state’s major business organization polled the political ramifications of government money going to professional sports facilities — the numbers were not on the side of the Bucs, Dolphins, Jaguars and Co.

Asked whether they support “the use of public tax dollars for professional sport facilities, because it helps bring jobs to our communities,” only 41% of respondents strongly or somewhat agreed. Fifty-six percent strongly or somewhat disagreed.

Going inside the crosstabs of this poll, it’s clear that conservatives/Republicans have an issue with subsidizing sports facilities. Only 38% of this demographic agreed that government dollars should be doled out to pro sports teams.

Despite these sentiments — of which I am confident Governor Scott’s administration is aware — the stadium-subsidy bill is on its way to becoming law.

With Scott’s embrace of this issue, as well other centrist positions like providing in-state tuition to undocumented students, the Tea Party voters who helped put Scott into office may be wondering if the candidate they backed in 2010 is the same person they are being asked to re-elect in 2014.

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.