Bill could fix parking surcharge
By Paola Iuspa
State Rep. Carlos Lacasa is offering to sponsor a bill that could repair Miami's parking surcharge law - declared unconstitutional by the Third District Court of Appeal.
But Rep. Lacasa says he won't sponsor legislation to extend the parking surcharge past its current expiration - a measure that is a critical piece of the financing proposal for a $500 million baseball stadium for the Florida Marlins.
If approved by legislators, a rewritten version of the law could allow the city to keep the $20 million it has generated since 1999 and continue to collect it until 2006.
If the city can continue to collect the 20% parking fee, proponents of the stadium deal want to extend it for 40 years. An extension is forecast to generate the $150 million the city is being asked to contribute and $23 million more from a sales tax rebate on the fee toward the stadium.
The financing proposal also calls for $118 million in Miami-Dade County tourism taxes and $30 million from a planned Miami River tax increment. The remaining $179 million needed is being negotiated between the county and team.
Rep. Lacasa said he thinks the amended parking surcharge bill will win approval.
"The City of Miami should not get any opposition from representatives and senators from outside of the Miami area," said Mr. Lacasa, who chairs a fiscal responsibility committee, where appropriations are scrutinized.
An extension of the surcharge law could be another story. Rep. Lacasa said the purpose of the extension should be to help city finances, not primarily to build a ballpark.
"What made it attractive for some members, not including me, was the fact that it had a Marlins component," Mr. Lacasa said. "But in reality the extension was to help city finances so funds continue flowing to the city coffers. Only a portion of it was for the Marlins."
The legislative session will start in January and end in March instead of beginning in March and ending in May as usual. Since redistricting and drafting a budget promise to take up the legislators' time, many may not be willing to wait for the Marlins to come up with a financial plan halfway through the session, which was what happened last year, legislators said.
"The longer they wait to present a plan, the more upset the members will get because the redistricting gets pushed to the end," said state Sen. Alex Villalobos of Miami.
Holding a referendum before the session would have helped but it is a detailed financial plan that politicians want to see, Mr. Villalobos said.
Mr. Villalobos sponsored a bill last year that called for using a portion of a sales tax rebate on merchandise sold in the proposed stadium to help pay for construction. The bill passed the House but the Senate never voted on it.
An extension of the parking surcharge and the sales tax rebate on that fee are components of the stadium financing plan that appear headed again for legislative debate.
The team and Miami Mayor Joe Carollo had wanted to hold a September referendum on the extension of the parking tax. They had hoped a favorable vote would send a message of support from city residents to the legislature and allow the Marlins to start planning the construction, Mr. Carollo told city commissioners last week.
But commissioners decided to follow advice from City Attorney Alex Vilarello, who recommended the referendum be postponed until March. Mr. Vilarello said the referendum's outcome could unintentionally influence the pending actions of the Florida Supreme Court and state legislators.
State Rep. Gustavo Barreiro of Miami Beach said without the referendum, the city was putting the burden on the Miami-Dade delegation.
"It will start a battle," Mr. Barreiro said. "Most of the Dade delegation is going to be against any tax being imposed on constituents who do not live in Miami."
Many have said that about 80% of those paying the parking surcharge are commuters from outside the city limits who do not benefit from the tax revenue. He also said any extension of the parking tax without a Marlins stadium element was not going to pass.
"When the parking surcharge was instated, it was as an emergency measure," said State Rep. Marco Rubio of Coral Gables, refering to Miami's financial crisis in 1996. "An extension would be an extraordinary measure and members will want to see a referendum sooner or later."
State Rep. Kenneth Allan Gottlieb of Hollywood said he had not been contacted so far to sponsor the extension, which he did in the last session. But he said already was sponsoring other bills and could not add more.
Mr. Villalobos said he would not sponsor in the Senate any bill calling for amending the parking tax law or extending the surcharge until he is presented with a written financial plan.
"The devil is in the details," he said.
On the other hand, city commissioners last week told Marlins officials to come up with a letter of understanding accepting the financing terms by Sept. 13, otherwise city administrators would stop negotiations.
The newest site for the stadium is south of the Miami River, bounded by the river on the north, Southwest Eighth Street on the south, Southwest Second Avenue on the east and I-95 on the west. The 20 acres is made up of parcels owned by 25 landowners.
The previous site, 20 acres on the northern bank of the river, has not been ruled out. But with that lot bounded by the river, the Metrorail and I-95, construction costs could exceed $550 million. Building in the tighter space could also take longer, pushing back the opening date.