- Associated Press - Thursday, February 19, 2015

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) - A shot by some of Florida’s professional sports teams to get millions in taxpayer help fell short on Thursday, but the contest appears far from over.

A legislative panel voted to delay ranking four proposals requesting $255 million in taxpayer money, saying the crucial decision should instead be made by the entire Florida Legislature when it meets this spring.

Rep. Richard Corcoran, chairman of the Legislative Budget Commission, said he remains opposed to all the proposals.

The rankings had been considered crucial because lawmakers did not set aside enough money for all four requests in the first year of a new sports grant program.

The state received requests that would help pay for improvements to stadiums used by the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Miami Dolphins, the fledgling Orlando City Lions soccer team as well as a request to help with improvements to Daytona International Speedway. The payments would be spread out over anywhere from 15 to 30 years.

State economists ranked the request for Daytona last, meaning it would have been received nothing this year if legislators had gone ahead and voted.

In the last few days, however, supporters of the sports teams had been fearful that the budget panel would reject all four requests.

Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, who showed up to push for the city’s soccer stadium, called the decision to punt until the session starts in March a “good result.”

“I’m comfortable that we’ll come to the right place by the end of session,” Dyer said.

Still, the delay shows how contentious that subsidies to sports franchises has become.

Corcoran, who is line to become the next House speaker, said he will vote against request for taxpayer dollars when it comes up during session.

“This is a reversed perverse Robin Hood,” Corcoran said. “We’re going to take from the hardworking taxpayers and give it to the rich people.”

For the past two decades, Florida taxpayers have paid tens of millions to turn the state into a sports mecca. The money has paid for repairs, renovations and construction of stadiums and arenas that are home to professional football, hockey, baseball and basketball teams. The state also has shelled out money to spruce up ballparks used by Major League Baseball teams for spring training.

But an effort to aid the Miami Dolphins in 2013 went down to defeat in the waning moments of the legislative session as some lawmakers, especially those from South Florida, questioned the validity of aiding the team owner.

Lawmakers last year passed a new law that they said would create a new process intended to protect taxpayers so that heavily lobbied projects weren’t the only ones getting help.


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