|Written by Frank Rollason -- BT Contributor|
Is a proposal to publicly fund improvements at Sun Life Stadium out of bounds, or a winning call?
Well, here we are, discussing public funding for a private stadium venture one more time. As Yogi Berra would say, “It’s déjà vu all over, again.”
The usual band of thieves, er, I mean lobbyists -- I apologize if thieves were offended -- are out in force working every angle to make it happen and earn their crumbs from the public trough. But then, that’s what lobbyists do, and it’s our elected officials who bestow so much power on them. Why? Because lobbyists, through their connections, help fund campaigns, allowing our officials to continue “serving” the “public.”
And then there are the usual suspects who come to us, the public, as our protectors, offering to slay the corporate giant, or at least cut off the public source of sustenance that keeps the beast alive. Threats of opposition, even recall, from auto magnate Norman Braman should not be ignored by those who wish to continue to serve till death do us part.
Oh, what to do, what to do? The lonely world of the politician, whose primary mission is to stay in office in perpetuity, continuing to “serve” the “public,” is indeed fraught with conflict. But enough of this diatribe. Let’s talk about the stadium deal.
First, there is no deal currently being presented. The owner of the Miami Dolphins, billionaire Stephen Ross, simply has his hand out for $200 million of taxpayer money to help improve Joe Robbie Stadium -- it will always be Joe Robbie to me, because Mr. Robbie had the integrity to build it with his own money -- so that we can compete (merely compete, mind you) for the 2016 Super Bowl.
I marvel at how fast positions seem to be taken before there is any proposal on the table. I mean, sure, we know that Ross wants $200 million and we know that if it were not for him making this request for our dollars, we would not even be discussing this issue. So it’s really about “our dollars” being used in a way that some view as inappropriate and some view as smart economically for the growth and betterment of our community.
Keep in mind that Ross has pledged to privately fund half the proposed $400 million renovation, an element sorely lacking from the Marlins’ lopsided deal. (Half of the private funds could come from the National Football League itself.)
For this investment, the stadium will receive a canopy to protect fans from the elements, more comfortable seating, a greater number of seats closer to the field, larger HD screens, HD sports lighting, updated kitchens, and modern escalators and elevators.
The pro-funding group points out Miami-Dade residents will not be affected because the improvements will be funded by a bed tax -- money that is generated by tourists, not by residents. While this may be true, those are still tax dollars in the system. The idea being proffered is to raise the bed tax a smidgen (smidgens are hardly ever noticed) so the rest of the already earmarked bed tax won’t be affected.
While this may work in theory, I haven’t heard that the proposed increase will be eliminated once the $200 million mark is reached; perhaps no one would notice and the visitors and tourists would never be the wiser and that would add a few more dollars to the pot for whatever the next project might be.
All that said, $200 million is still $200 million. (We are reminded of the late U.S. Senator Everett Dirksen, who reportedly once remarked, “A million here and a million there and, pretty soon, we’re talking about real money.”) I recently heard of a novel idea for a public-input campaign that asks one simple question: “What project would you propose for the sum of $200 million of public money?”
Not sure if this idea got any traction, but it does cause you to ponder what good could be done if $200 million were dropped in your lap and you had say over where it went. I would dare say, giving it to a billionaire to improve his private enterprise would probably be way down on the list, if it made the list at all.
I think this is part of the public’s problem with this proposal, or at least our perception of this proposal. Many are assuming that it will be similar to the Marlins Park fiasco, but I sense this deal may be a little different. And that’s why I’m holding off judgment until all the cards are on the table.
Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez has stated that if he cannot negotiate a package that is favorable to county residents, he will not support the funding, or even bring the proposal to the full commission. At this point we have no way of knowing what he may or may not be able to wrangle out of Ross, but I am willing to wait and see what the options may be before I support or oppose the funding.
Perhaps he may be able to have the county become a silent partner in the Dolphins and share the profits from the skyboxes, concessions, and parking forever and ever. (Amen.)
Wouldn’t that make a difference, if the county were to have a steady revenue stream, even after the initial $200 million were paid back? We, the residents of the county, could well end up receiving money, instead of taking a loss. The one thing I wouldn’t like to see happen is for the county to be involved in the actual operation of the stadium. That would probably be a disaster. I would leave that to Ross and his team. Let the county just sit back and rake in our share.
Gimenez is already putting pressure on the NFL to commit to South Florida as a Super Bowl site before the final deal is struck. As for Braman, I’m somewhat puzzled with his apparent opposition to this proposal, when Gimenez is insisting on a public referendum before the funding is approved.
I recall that, on the Marlins deal, Braman’s position was that if a public vote were held and the public approved the Marlins funding, he would drop his opposition. This time, however, he appears to be in opposition even if the public speaks.
So I say it’s just too early to take a position. Let’s see what the mayor can do and then vote the proposal up or down. That’s how democracy is supposed to work, is it not?
Volume 13, Issue 12, February 2016
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