Stadiums as homeless shelters and free tickets for foster kids at blacked-out gamesby Dara Kam | January 23rd, 2012
Florida professional sports teams have ignored a 25-year-old law long enough, according to Sen. Mike Bennett, who wants to use the law to force the teams to refund some of the money taxpayers have spent subsidizing their stadiums.
Bennett’s using a little-known state law that now requires that any professional sports facility built with state money to be used as a homeless shelter except when the facility is being used for a specific event or activity to go after what he calls corporate welfare.
Bennettalso wants to fine the sports teams for blacking out local television coverage of the games and use the money from the fines to buy tickets to the games and give the tickets to foster kids or active-duty soldiers.
The sports franchises now get $166,000 per month in tax breaks for 30 years, Bennett said. The teams would be fined $125,000 for blacking out the games – something the state can’t stop, Bennett said.
“The theory is if we’re going to give them $166,000 per month for 30 years we cannot control what the NFL does. But we can fine them the $125,000. They’ll still get a little tax break of around $41,000. But we think there’s a lot of deserving children out here who would like to go to…see those games,” he said.
Under Bennett’s proposal (SB 816), approved unanimously by the Senate Community Affairs Committee this morning, the teams would have to repay up to nearly $300 million Florida the teams – along with counties and others – have received to build arenas if they don’t start complying with the law.
“All of the sports teams always preach up and down about playing fair. I think it’s fair that they follow the rules in their games and I think it’s fair that they follow the rules of the state of Florida,” Bennett, R-Bradenton, said. “We have spent over $300 million supporting teams that can afford to pay a guy $7, $8, $10 million a year to throw a baseball 90 feet. I think they can pay for their own stadium.”
Bennett, a long-time critic of using state funds to give tax breaks or other financial assistance to professional sports teams, said he has asked Attorney General Pam Bondi’s office to look into whether the state would actually be able to recoup the money from the teams as his bill proposes. If not, he said he’s prepared to pursue a class-action lawsuit against the teams.
“I cannot believe that we’re going to cut money out of Medicaid and take it away from homeless and take it away from the poor and the impoverished and we’re continuing to support people who are billionaires with the stadiums,” Bennett said.
So far, Florida taxpayers have contributed more than $261 million to 17 facilities throughout the state, including $37 million for Dolphin Stadium. St. Lucie County received nearly $1.3 million since 2007 to help cover the costs of a spring training ball park for the New York Jets.
The bill has three more committee stops in the Senate and has not yet been heard in the House.