Florida's oldest professional sports franchise — the Miami Dolphins — was dealt a crushing blow Friday after the Florida Legislature ended it session without passing any funding plan that would assist the team's quest to refurbish its stadium.
The refusal of the GOP-controlled Legislature to aid the team wasn't just a defeat for the Dolphins — it could also sack South Florida's efforts to lure another Super Bowl to the region in the next few years.
The professional sports teams were all backing a Florida Senate proposal that would have allowed each of them to compete for a share of state tax dollars.
But the House — led by Speaker Will Weatherford — refused to bring up the legislation.
"I think part of the complication was the fact that it wasn't just the Dolphins," Weatherford said. "You had five or six different franchises that were looking for a tax rebate, and that's serious public policy. You're talking about hundreds of millions of dollars and I think the House just never got comfortable there when the session ended."
But the defeat was especially stinging for the Dolphins since the team had already agreed to pay for a Miami-Dade County referendum on whether to raise local bed taxes to assist the team. The initial Senate bill authorized the use of the taxes. The failure of legislators to act makes the May 14 ballot question meaningless, even though early and absentee balloting had already begun.
Dolphins owner Stephen Ross blasted Weatherford, saying in a statement that the Wesley Chapel Republican had promised to at least let the legislation come up for a vote on the House floor.
"He put politics before the people and the 4,000 jobs this project would have created for Miami Dade, and that is just wrong," Ross said.
Weatherford, in a tweet, later contended that it wasn't true that he had promised an up or down vote.
The Dolphins wanted both state and local help to pay for $400 million worth of renovations to Sun Life Stadium. The Dolphins wanted $3 million a year for the next 30 years from the state.
In order to convince skeptical politicians the team agreed to a series of concessions — including that it would pay part of the money after 30 years.
But the push by the Dolphins coincided with an effort by other cities and professional sports organizations to also obtain state tax dollars.
The Florida Senate passed legislation that would have created a process where pro teams would compete for $13 million a year in state incentives.
The bill would also would have let the Dolphins tap into local taxes to help pay for renovations to their stadium. But in the waning moments of the session the Senate passed a revised version that stripped the local tax portion and instead just made the Dolphins eligible for state money. That failed too.
"I took it 80 yards," said Sen. Oscar Braynon, D-Miami Gardens and the bill sponsor. "We could have kicked a field goal but we're seven points down. I think I've done everything I can."