Legislators want vote on sports teams' tax breaks

Published March 21, 2007

TALLAHASSEE - Blasting plans for hundreds of millions in new tax incentives for the Tampa Bay Lightning and other pro teams, two lawmakers Tuesday called for a statewide referendum before any money is handed out.

"At a time when property taxes are soaring, schools are struggling to keep up and violent crime is on the rise, voters should get to decide whether millionaire athletes and billionaire team owners deserve our tax dollars," said Rep. Scott Randolph, D-Orlando.

Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Braden-ton, said the intent is not to block teams from getting money, but he made clear he thinks it could be better spent.

The legislation is reacting to three bills that would provide sales tax rebates to teams. Two are aimed at helping the Florida Marlins get a stadium in Miami.

The third, filed by state Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, would give an additional $2-million a year for 30 years to the Lightning and other pro teams.

The potential cost: $540-million.

Bennett acknowledged Tuesday his bill has little hope of advancing this session, but he said Gov. Charlie Crist supports the referendum.

Asked why voters shouldn't have a say in such a big public subsidy, Crist said: "They do have a say. They have a say right now by who they elect." He said he wouldn't rule out a referendum.

As for Bennett's claim that Crist told him he would support the referendum requirement, Crist said: "I haven't had the chance to see the language of his bill, but I'm happy to do so."

Crist is a firm supporter of sports for economic development.