BRADENTON, Fla. – In the final week of the annual Florida legislative session lawmakers are taking action on a $74.5 billion state budget, bills affecting agencies with bond financing authority, and subsidies to finance stadium upgrades for professional sports teams.
Legislators are in a required waiting period before taking a final vote on the budget, likely Thursday. The 6% increase over the current budget makes the spending plan Florida’s largest ever. The amount of bonds being approved was not immediately available.
Gov. Rick Scott has line-item veto power, and has indicated concern about a provision that authorizes colleges to increase tuition.
On Monday, after National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell and Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross lobbied at the state capitol in Tallahassee, the Senate passed a bill on a 35-to-4 vote authorizing Miami-Dade County to increase a local tourist development tax for partial financing of a $400 million modernization of Sun Life stadium.
The bill, now in the House, also creates a limited funding pot for pro teams to compete for 30-year sales tax rebates that can back bonds for stadium improvements. The Dolphins, the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars, the Daytona International Speedway, and the city of Orlando are seeking rebates. Orlando wants to build a Major League Soccer stadium.
Even if lawmakers give Miami-Dade power to raise the tourist tax, local voters could nix the deal. Early voting began this week in a binding election on whether to allow the local subsidy, which would be used to back bonds for the Dolphins’ project.
Election day is May 14 and opposition has emerged among factions stung by generous public financing the city of Miami and the county provided for the $639 million baseball stadium built for the Miami Marlins. The Marlins pitched in about $100 million, but the team traded away many of its best and highest-paid players were after the stadium opened.
Ross, the Dolphins owner, has pledged that private sources will pay a “majority” of the cost of improving Sun Life stadium, which was built 25 years ago with private financing. In addition to just over $200 million of the cost, the team is also paying $4.8 million for the referendum that is under way.
In other legislative action, lawmakers early Tuesday approved a bill changing the name of the Florida Hurricane Catastrophe Fund Finance Corp. to the State Board of Administration Finance Corp. The name change is designed to make it easier to explain the credit to prospective investors when municipal bonds are sold.
The Senate bill also contains several provisions aimed at reducing the liability of Citizens Property Insurance Corp., including a reduction in the maximum policy limit from $2 million to $1 million beginning Jan. 1, 2014. Starting Jan. 1, 2015, the maximum policy limit would be reduced by $100,000 a year over five years. By 2019, a dwelling with a replacement cost of $500,000 or more would not be eligible for coverage.
The House insurance bill differs from the Senate version so a conference committee will iron out details.
On Wednesday, the Senate has placed on its calendar the first vote on a bill that makes major changes to the high-profile Orlando-Orange County Expressway Authority, most of whose five board members currently reside in the city of Orlando or Orange County.
The bill creates the regional Central Florida Expressway Authority, or CFX, and expands the agency to include Orange, Seminole, Lake, and Osceola counties with an 11-member governing board. All governance and control, legal rights and powers, responsibilities, terms and obligations of the former expressway would be transferred to CFX, including $2.6 billion of outstanding debt.