Less than three years after Gov. Rick Scott signed legislation providing for state revenues to go toward constructing or improving professional sports franchise facilities, state Sen. Tom Lee wants to eliminate the agency created to distribute those funds.
“The Sports Development Program was ill-conceived and based on the false premise that these capital improvements are a boon for economic development,” the Brandon Republican said Tuesday. “Professional teams are vying for taxpayer funds to pay for largely superficial facility upgrades, many of which are already in progress or completed. History has shown that team owners will make these investments without hardworking families having to foot the bill.”
Under the Sports Development Program created by the Legislature in 2014, sporting projects and complexes seeking Florida tax revenue must submit proposals to be evaluated by the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity. Then the disbursement of funds must pass approval by the Florida Legislative Budget Commission. The state can award up to $13 million annually for all certified applicants. The maximum annual distribution for a single sports franchise facility is for only $3 million, and distributions can be made for up to 30 years.
In spending $100 million to upgrade Raymond James Stadium over the past year, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers had hoped to procure $3 million in Sports Development Program funds to help pay for that upgrade. However, their application was rejected because it wasn’t completed on time. The NFL franchise reapplied to the program last month, requesting $1 million a year for at least 10 years.
Scott hailed the legislation when he signed it into law in June of 2014, saying that the program would add more jobs to the state, as well as increase tourism.
“I am proud to support this legislation, and this Sports Development Program will allow franchises to expand in Florida, and create more jobs and opportunities for Florida families,” Scott said at the time.
The legislation was also supported by Clearwater Sen. Jack Latvala, now serving as Senate Appropriations Chairman. But it will undoubtedly be backed by House Speaker Richard Corcoran, who has historically opposed giving sales-tax dollars to professional sports facilities.
The anti “corporate welfare” attitude espoused by Corcoran prevailed last year in Session, when three different sports facilities — EverBank Field in Jacksonville, Sun Life Stadium in Miami-Dade County and Daytona International Speedway — received no funding from the Legislature, despite the Department of Economic Opportunity finding they qualified for the state sales-tax money.
Sarasota Republican Sen. Greg Stuebe has filed legislation (SB 122) that would prohibit a sports franchise from constructing, reconstructing, renovating, or improving a facility on leased public land. Hialeah Republican Rep. Bryan Avila has filed a companion bill in the House.