Stadium Finance

Kill Florida’s Sports Stadium Slush Fund Now

Some Florida legislators are actually calling for an end to the state's ridiculous public money pool for stadiums

Stadium Finance
Getty Images
Jan 10, 2017 at 10:34 AM ET

According to current projections, the state of Florida will be $3 billion a year in the black for the next two years. With an eye towards trimming expenditures wherever possible, one bit of legislation that might be on the chopping block is the Sports Development Program, a glorified slush fund of public money for sports stadiums.

The Sports Development Program was established in 2014 and set aside $13 million annually towards building new stadiums and/or various upgrades. Proposals would then be approved by the Department of Economic Opportunity with a limit of $3 million doled out to any single applicant. If that seems like a piddling total, it shouldn’t. Theoretically, any team or university could ask for $3 million a year for up to 30 years, or a grand total of $90 million dollars.

But on Tuesday, state senator Tom Lee put forth a bill that would shutter the program entirely.

“The Sports Development Program was ill-conceived and based on the false premise that these capital improvements are a boon for economic development,” Lee said. “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.”

Well, that sounds entirely rational. House Speaker Richard Corcoran echoed Lee’s concerns, (rightly) calling this stadium slush fund “corporate welfare.”

“Florida has the tax environment, the weather and the fans to support multiple sports franchises without raiding taxpayer pockets,” Corcoran said in a statement. “Those who own the game should not be able to take money from those who don’t attend the game.”

I’m not sure I’m ready for a world in which government officials do the right thing and refuse to line owners’ pockets, even for a program as half-assed as this one. As the Sun-Sentinel reported, of late, the Sports Development Program rubber-stamped a slew of projects without doing much due diligence at all.

Via the Sun-Sentinel:

In 2015, the department simply approved every stadium offer and passed them on for legislative approval, despite many legislators saying the law required the agency to rank the proposals.

Lawmakers reviewed proposals from Dolphins Stadium, the Daytona International Speedway, EverBank Field in Jacksonville and Orlando’s professional soccer team, which wanted to build a new stadium partly with state funds. With no recommendations from the department, the legislators opted to give money to no one.

Some lawmakers would like to keep the Sports Development Program around, like state senator Jack Latvala, who’s heavily backed the Tampa Bay Rays’ quest to snag public funding for a new stadium and promised to boycott all Tampa Bay Buccaneers home games until Mike Evans stood for the national anthem.

“We can pull a blanket over our head and crawl under it and quit competing with the rest of the world, and there seems to be some folks that are advocating that,” he said.

Funnily enough, after Orlando City failed to get funding for its new stadium, they opted to pay for it themselves. Kind of. Once they realized they weren’t going to get $40 million from the public coffers, they still managed to claw back millions in future construction costs and infrastructure improvements as a part of a renegotiated lease. Hey, no one said progress was going to come easy.