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Bill Would Prohibit Spring Training Sites From Tapping Into Taxpayer Funds

Fans sitting on the grass during a Phillies spring training game
Carl Lisciandrello
WUSF Public Media
The bill would mean spring training sites, such as Spectrum Field in Clearwater, couldn't use money from tourist-development taxes and half-cent taxes on improvements. CREDIT: CARL LISCIANDRELLO/WUSF PUBLIC MEDIA

Local communities would no longer be able to use money from tourist-development taxes and half-cent sales taxes on professional sports facilities, under a measure that drew concerns about baseball spring training.

The House Ways & Means Committee on Monday approved the proposal (HB 1369), which would prohibit using revenue from a tourist-development taxes or convention-development taxes for building or improving facilities that would be used by professional sports franchises after July 1.

It also would remove the authority of local governments to spend half-cent sales tax dollars on motorsport entertainment complexes or for reimbursing the state under a sports-development program.

“If these franchises and the stadiums they build are as lucrative as is explained, there will be plenty of private investors willing to participate in their financing,” bill sponsor Cary Pigman, R-Avon Park, said.

While voting for the bill, Rep. Colleen Burton, R-Lakeland, and Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen, R-Fort Myers, said more information is needed about the bill’s potential impact on communities that house spring-training facilities, such as Lakeland, which has hosted the Detroit Tigers spring training since the 1930s.

“I’m a huge fan of the Tigers and what they bring to our community,” Burton said. “They (annually) bring $63 million, roughly, of economic development impact to our community. Eighty-four years is a very, very long time. They’re in place right now to extend that to 100 years already.”

The Senate doesn’t have a version of the bill. But the issue is considered linked to a proposal (HB 6057), filed by Ways & Means Chairman Bryan Avila, R-Miami Springs, that is designed to repeal a controversial program that spells out steps for state dollars to become available for stadium construction and renovation.

The stadium funding program makes available $13 million a year for work involving professional stadiums, but the program has gone unused since being created in 2014 because of House opposition.