Florida house approves bill for $12m/year in new sports subsidies, but MLB can only apply if it’s nicer to Cubans

The Florida state house has approved its bill setting up an official process for sports teams to demand tax kickbacks, as first proposed last month. The bill, approved by a 93-16 vote on Friday, would set up a pool of an additional $12 million a year in sales tax breaks (on top of the $2 million a year apiece currently given to the states’ MLB, NFL, NBA, and NHL teams); any projects seeking to get a slice would have to go through a ranking process conducted by the state Department of Economic Opportunity, and then be subjected to a legislative vote.

The one new twist is an amendment that would deny sales-tax funding to the state’s MLB teams — including for spring training facilities — unless baseball revamps its policy on Cuban defectors to allow them to become free agents rather than having to enter the major-league draft. (Right now players like Yasiel Puig choose to establish residency first in a draft-free nation like Mexico in order to score more lucrative contracts, leading to scary stories that become Brett Ratner biopics.) In response, MLB issues a noncommittal statement that it would meet with the players’ union “to determine whether changes can be made to our international signing rules to reduce or eliminate the reliance of Cuban players on criminal organizations when leaving Cuba.”

In any event, this bill is likely to look very different after it gets through the state senate, whose leader have already said they want to eliminate that part where legislators vote on which projects to approve, otherwise known as “the part that actually gives the bill any teeth at all.” Sen. Jack Latvala said he supported the Cuban provision — because this is Florida, so of course he did — but predicted, “This bill will bounce. We’re not gonna do it exactly the way the House does it on the first pass.”

Palm Beach County trying to get all the spring training teams

Looks like the Washington Nationals finally found someone interested in throwing money at them for a new spring-training stadium, even if it’s only theoretical money at this point:

Palm Beach County is willing to play ball with two Major League Baseball teams trying to get a new spring training stadium, but public cost and tax hurdles could get in the way.

The County Commission Tuesday gave its endorsement to trying to craft a deal with the Houston Astros and Washington Nationals that could include building a $100 million stadium and training facility that would host both teams for spring training.

Palm Beach County already has a spring training stadium — Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter, which tragically does not look like this — which is home to the Miami Marlins and St. Louis Cardinals, but county officials are hoping that adding a second stadium and two more teams will “keep baseball spring training here in Florida,” according to County Mayor Priscilla Taylor. Because, I guess, they’re trying to build a critical mass of teams so that they don’t all move to Arizona, is the theory?

Anyway, the county commission doesn’t know where a stadium would go (there are reportedly ten sites under consideration) or how that $100 million would be paid for (the state has offered $50 million in funding over 37 years, which would only pay for a small sliver of the cost). The county could kick in some hotel tax money, and … yeah, that’s about as far as they’ve got. “There are still a lot of unknowns,” county commissioner Paulette Burdick told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. Tell me about it.

Florida offers more money for spring training stadiums, cities realize now they have to compete with neighbors, too

Florida Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill last week raising the amount of state sales-tax money available to help Florida cities build spring training facilities from $500,000 per year per team to $666,000. And while the stated goal is to keep MLB teams from moving their spring facilities to Arizona, some Florida localities have noticed that it could have an unforeseen side effect:

Dunedin Chamber of Commerce President Lynn Wargo said civic leaders are concerned the state funding has allowed other Florida communities to make overtures to the Toronto Blue Jays, as the team’s 15-year stadium lease is due to expire at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium in 2017…

Similar concerns have been expressed in Melbourne and Kissimmee, where moves by teams have been seen as more inevitable.

Brevard County Commission Chairman Andy Anderson has said the law will create a “free-for-all.”

Actually, things have pretty much always been a free-for-all, with teams constantly jumping cities for spring training. And there’s no sign the previous round of state funding worked to prevent moves: As the Cardinal Nation Blog noted recently, Florida has handed out $43 million in spring-training funds since 2001 to ten teams, and three of those have already relocated, two of them to Arizona. But as that blog notes, “it seems like those development dollars have not always provided the desired benefit, yet officials perhaps feel they have no choice but to spend more in trying.” What’s that definition of insanity again?

Florida gov offers spring training subsidies, suddenly teams discover old spring training facilities are so last year

Suddenly it seems like every MLB team that trains in Florida is looking for a new spring-training facility: The Toronto Blue Jays want out of Dunedin, the Houston Astros may be looking to leave Kissimmee, and the Washington Nationals and Detroit Tigers are reportedly looking to relocate as well.

What gives? Well, the Blue Jays are complaining that their minor league fields are too far from their major league field, and the souvenir stands are too cramped; the Astros are looking to maybe move closer to teams that train on Florida’s Atlantic coast; and, let’s see…

Just received a press release from the Clearwater Chamber of Commerce that powerful State Senator Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, helped negotiate an agreement with Governor Rick Scott to dedicate $5 million in recurring funds each year to the “State Economic Enhancement and Development Trust Fund for Major League Baseball Spring Training.”

Okay, that’s the one. The Astros in particular appear to be grubbing for state funds, as their statements have been all about “stabilizing spring training on the east coast of Florida.” (The New York Mets and St. Louis Cardinals can both break their leases if there isn’t a critical mass of other teams nearby.)

It shouldn’t need saying, but I’ll say it anyway: It’s absolutely stupid for a state government to be giving money to one municipality to steal businesses from another town across the state. Presumably the argument is that it’ll keep teams from moving their spring training operations to Arizona, but given that the press release announcing the “State Economic Enhancement and Development Trust Fund for Major League Baseball Spring Training” misstated that “as recently as 15 years ago, every Major League team held its training in Florida” and “this year, for the first time, less than one-half of Major League Baseball teams train in Florida” (neither is true), it looks like facts are less important to the bill’s sponsors than rationales. And hey look, the Tampa Tribune believes it already!

The spring training subsidy bill isn’t quite a sure thing — apparently for some reason it’s tangled up with subsidies for international banks, which in turn is in threat of being removed by the bill to subsidize stadium renovations for the Miami Dolphins — but it has a lot of support in the state legislature. Which surely has nothing to do with the fact that the Astros hired a high-powered lobbyist to push the bill through.

(Thanks to Shadow of the Stadium for its exhaustive coverage of this subject.)

Did I forget to mention MLB teams shake down cities for spring training money? Oh, do they ever

Nice piece last night by Deadspin wunderkind Jack Dickey on the never-ending shakedown of Florida and Arizona cities for baseball spring training facilities. Key section:

About the Nationals’ current home: It’s Space Coast Stadium in Viera, Fla., which was built in 1994 to keep the Marlins’ spring games in-state. It remained the Marlins’ home until Jeffrey Loria swapped the Expos for the Marlins in 2002, when Loria decided he’d keep Montreal’s newer spring digs at Jupiter’s Roger Dean Stadium, which opened in 1998. Loria happily forced the older stadium on Montreal’s new owners, MLB. Love that guy. In any event, the Nationals’ home isn’t yet 20 years old. But they’re still itching for a new one. For spring freaking training.

So why is it that Lee County won’t give in to the Nats? Have they finally gotten some sense about the economic ineffectiveness of publicly subsidized stadiums? Are they going to invest in infrastructure? Or schools?

Lee County, however, can’t afford anything close to that amount after taking on about $234 million in baseball-related debt over the past several years—borrowing $143 million to build a new stadium for the Red Sox and agreeing to take on another $91 million loan for improvements the Minnesota Twins want.

Oh, great.

This is nothing new, of course — though I don’t write about it here that often because I’m kept busy enough with major-league stadium news, spring-training subsidies have been a thriving business for years, if only because there’s effectively an unlimited number of Florida and Arizona towns who are able to host spring training, so the hosting merry-go-round is an endless bidding war. But it’s nice to see it all in one place. And by “nice” I mean of course teeth-gnashingly enraging.