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Stadium Subsidies Anger Health Care Advocates


Take me out to the ballgame is not a song likely to be heard in a year when lawmakers used $3 billion in federal stimulus money, cut programs and swept trust funds to close a $6 billion deficit, no matter how much people root, root, root for the home teams.

Health care advocate Karen Woodall says other programs for years have gotten peanuts – while the state supports sports franchises.

Woodall, outreach and education coordination of the Florida Center for Fiscal and Economic Policy, said it was an outrage that the $66.5 billion spending approved this month by lawmakers includes about $24 million in subsidies to facilities for sports franchises.

"It's about priority," Woodall said. "It has nothing to do with not wanting sports. Here we are in a recession and at time when the Legislature is being forced to cut programs...yet we still give subsidies to sports facilities attached to teams that are collectively worth $6 billion dollars. It's an outrageous thing to spend money on in this time when the state is cutting back on education and health care."

The previously approved state assistance for eight stadiums in Miami, Jacksonville, St. Petersburg and Orlando will see the state pay $60 million to the teams that play in them over 30 years. The money is distributed in monthly installments, so even in a tough budget year like this one, the state still pays the teams $2 million.

That's why Woodall said the stadium backers should have to convince lawmakers to fund them every year like most other advocates.

"I have to fight every year to keep money for eye glasses in the budget, but the World Golf Hall of Fame doesn't have to justify itself," Woodall said. "Once it's approved, they get monthly payments no questions asked."

But Florida Sports Foundation president Larry Pendleton said the stadium assistance it usually used for bond debt servicing, making it hard to undo, even in a tough budget year. The Florida Sports Foundation is the official sports promotion firm in the state, operating under a contract with the governor's Office of Trade, Tourism and Economic Development.

"This is talked about a lot but it would hurt the state's bond rating if we tried to get back the money," Pendleton said.

Pendleton added that no new stadium subsidies were approved this year. The last new arena to get state money was the one being built for the Orlando Magic basketball team, which will open in 2011, he said.

And to qualify for the money, Pendleton said, the teams had to demonstrate they could double it in sales tax revenue from concessions.

"That's pretty easy for them to do, so the state is technically getting money back," Pendleton said. He added that the teams typically bring about $5 million in sales tax money each year. That makes the state a net gainer of about $3 million.

Pendleton said that although the stadium subsidies, which he described as tax rebates, are often criticized, they have clearly worked.

"We set out to generate interest in professional sports teams coming to Florida," he said. "We only had the Dolphins and the Bucs when the law was passed. Now we have eight teams."

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