TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) – With time running out, the Miami Dolphins are still far from the goal line when it comes to winning state support for stadium renovations.
The team has made concessions in the last few weeks, but it remains unclear if the Republican-controlled Florida Legislature will pass a bill to help the state's oldest professional football team by the time the annual session ends on May 3.
"We're still hopeful,'' said Rep. Eddy Gonzalez, R-Hialeah and a sponsor of a bill (HB 165) to help the team. "If it's a Hail Mary at the end I'm good with it.''
If state legislators adjourn without passing a bill to help the Dolphins, it will be a blow to efforts by South Florida leaders to win a Super Bowl. National Football League owners are expected in May to announce sites for 2016 and 2017.
For the past two decades, Florida taxpayers have paid close to $300 million for repairs, renovations and the construction of stadiums and arenas for 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.
Florida has a budget surplus for the first time in many years and there are several professional sports operations seeking help this year.
There has also been a push to provide state money to help the Jacksonville Jaguars, Daytona International Speedway, and to lure a Major League Soccer franchise in Orlando.
But it's the Dolphins that have drawn the most attention, especially since some Miami-Dade legislators have criticized the effort.
The Dolphins want $3 million a year for 30 years to help pay for $400 million of renovations to Sun Life Stadium. They are also seeking legislation to let Miami-Dade County raise local taxes to pay for the project.
In an effort to garner support for the project, the Dolphins have agreed to pay back a portion of the state and local money after 30 years. The team is also paying for the referendum that will be held in Miami-Dade County next month.
Despite these concessions, the effort to help the Dolphins has stalled in the Florida House.
House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, was non-committal earlier this week when he was asked about the legislation.
"My guess is we will wait and see what the Senate does,'' Weatherford said.
The Florida Senate is expected to vote next week on a bill (SB 306) that would help the Dolphins, but it also requires the team to compete against other sports franchises for help.
The measure would set aside $13 million a year for sports incentives and would require them to be ranked by the state. Dolphins supporters insist that the concessions that they have already made would ensure they would get ranked ahead of other pro teams.
Ron Book, a well-known lobbyist working for the team, bristled at any notion that the Dolphins won't win legislative support in two weeks left in the session.
"This is halftime and there's a lot of time left to go,'' Book said.
*Pictured above is House Speaker Will Weatherford.