© St. Petersburg Times, published April 27, 2001
TALLAHASSEE -- Gov. Jeb Bush shrugged off a possible ultimatum from baseball commissioner Bud Selig about the future of the Florida Marlins.
"If the community doesn't come up with the money, the Marlins may not be around in Miami," Bush said Thursday. "That's always been a given as far as I'm concerned."
In a letter Wednesday to a state lawmaker, Selig said the Marlins would most likely leave South Florida if the Legislature does not approve a proposed tax rebate for a new downtown ballpark.
A bill to provide tax money for a new ballpark is awaiting action by both the full House and Senate.
The $122-million sales tax rebate plan is part of a $385-million package that includes county hotel taxes, an extension of a Miami city parking surcharge, a fee on game tickets and $6-million in annual rent payments by owner John Henry.
Bush said the decision about the stadium plan "ought to be based on public policy whether it's appropriate to spend that amount of money for that purpose."
Senate President John McKay already expressed skepticism about spending taxpayers' money on a new ballpark, particularly in a tight budget year.
"What the commissioner of baseball does or does not do and his opinions are of no concern to me," McKay said Thursday. "I'm going to vote against the bill."
Bush and House Speaker Tom Feeney have said they would like to see a united front among South Florida lawmakers.
Selig's message, sent to state Sen. Alex Villalobos, said the Marlins cannot survive in South Florida without a new ballpark. Villalobos said Selig's statement was a response to a letter he sent to the commissioner asking what the consequences would be if the measure was not approved.
"A lot of people have said it's a threat," Villalobos said. "I wanted it in writing. I didn't want it to be subject to interpretation."
The bill would give the Marlins a partial sales tax exemption on revenue generated by the new stadium. Any tax money beyond $1.5-million, which is what the team currently pays the state, would be rebated.
The team shares Pro Player Stadium with the NFL's Miami Dolphins. That stadium was built with private money by Dolphins' founder Joe Robbie, although the stadium's owners are receiving $60-million in tax breaks for adapting the stadium for baseball.
Under the plan, the Marlins would have to clean up a 60-acre polluted site along the Miami River to build the stadium, a neglected area that Miami would like to see revitalized.