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Florida Senator Challenging Sports Development Program

Raymond James Stadium

A Florida lawmaker is attempting to repeal the state’s Sports Development Program, which has been eyed for several NFL venues over the years. 

The Sports Development Program was put into law by governor Rick Scott in 2014, with the governor proclaiming that the law would enable the state to assist in major sports stadium development. Citing its potential economic benefit, Scott instituted the program with the provision that it could award up to $13 million annually and give a single stadium project as much as $3 million per year through sales taxes

Seeking to repeal the law is state senator Tom Lee of Brandon. On Tuesday, Lee filed senate bill 236 (SB 236) to gut the original law, saying in a prepared statement that it “was ill-conceived and based on the false premise that these capital improvements are a boon for economic development.” While some lawmakers are backing Lee in the proposal, a few of the bill’s original proponents are standing by the law. More from News 4 JAX:

The 2014 legislation, pushed by current Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala, was intended to decrease the lobbying lawmakers faced from owners of sports facilities seeking sales-tax dollars for construction and upgrades.

“This is not a giveaway of any dollars,” Latvala, R-Clearwater, said Tuesday. “The only dollars that we would give back, in any way shape or form, are the tax dollars that are created by whatever improvement they make.”

In maintaining his support for the stadium legislation, Latvala pointed to other economic-incentive programs — through the public-private agencies Visit Florida and Enterprise Florida, and for the film industry — that have come under a growing fire in the past few months.

“We can pull a blanket over our head and crawl under it and quit competing with the rest of the world, and there seems to be some folks that are advocating that,” Latvala said.

Funds from the legislation have been sought across all sports, and can cover a broad range of facilities within the state. However, NFL teams in particular have sought to tap into the Sports Development Program while working on stadium projects. The Miami Dolphins unsuccessfully sought to do so in their massive renovation of Hard Rock Stadium, and the Jacksonville Jaguars also ran into problems in their effort to obtain funds while planning upgrades at EverBank Field.

For the coming legislative session, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are the only sports franchise in the state to seek money through the Sports Development Program. The Buccaneers, who are in the midst of ongoing renovations to Raymond James Stadium, are seeking $1 million annually for $10 years.

The law calls for Sports Development Program funding requests to be reviewed by the state’s Department of Economic Opportunity. However, the distribution of funds must ultimately be approved by the state House of Representatives.

Rendering courtesy Tampa Bay Buccaneers. 

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