Local vote, tax dispute could stall Miami stadium deal
By Sherri C. Ranta
At least one Miami-Dade legislator says local squabbles about the use of convention development tax money is one example of loose ends the county needs to tie up before looking for state assistance to build a baseball stadium in Miami.
Rep. Annie Betancourt says the ongoing dispute between the county and the City of Miami Beach over how to divvy up tourist tax money is "another cloud" on her eventual votes on stadium-financing legislation.
Aside from that concern, she said she wants to amend the legislation that would extend the City of Miami's parking surcharge, another key element in the stadium's financing plan, to force the tax issue to a countywide referendum.
Rep. Ken Gottlieb said this week he, too, wants to amend the parking surcharge bill to require a local referendum but thinks it should be decided by City of Miami voters.
Such questions about the county's full support of a stadium or its financing package or added requirements for a local election will endanger chances of state action this legislative session.
Even county Mayor Alex Penelas, an author of the stadium proposal, plus several legislators, have said the success of the stadium-related proposals now in the legislature depend greatly on whether the county puts forward a united front.
Miami Beach officials this week continued to demand an amendment to their agreement with the county about how to use tourism taxes, a demand that if ignored could end up in court.
Beach city attorney Joseph L. Rebak said Tuesday they "will react appropriately. If litigation is needed, we will file."
The county wants to use a portion of the convention tax to finance the new Marlins stadium over 40 years. Miami Beach officials first want a revised agreement with the county guaranteeing the Beach and its convention center higher funding levels before money is committed to the stadium because about 40% of convention development tax is generated by Beach attractions.
While Beach officials push for a new agreement both they and county officials said Tuesday negotiations are in process Mayor Penelas said the governments have "an agreement reached in principle" and the issue remains of putting it in writing and sending it to the county commission.
George Burgess, senior assistant county manager, agreed there is no date yet for finalizing it.
"We're envisioning something that will time itself to the baseball project," Mr. Burgess said. "The Beach wants to make sure they're not forgotten as the baseball project unfolds."
He said the commission may well consider both the stadium financing issue and the Beach tax funds as "companion items."
Miami Beach City Manager Jorge Gonzalez agreed, saying the agreement needs to be finalized.
Other issues Rep. Betancourt said need to be shored up before the county seeks state funds for a stadium include a debate about the parking surcharge between Miami and the county the county contends its not obligated to pay.
She questioned the county's wherewithal to get all its own matters resolved before seeking funds for a stadium.
"It really makes me think," she said, "how serious are they in this thing? Have them all figure it out, clean up their acts. Then let's talk funding."