In My Opinion

Fabiola Santiago: For voters, Miami Dolphins stadium deal is a shot in the dark

fsantiago@MiamiHerald.comApril 26, 2013 

You know that moment in parenting when a child asks for something particularly nerve-wracking and you escape making the decision with the cowardly, “Ask your father,” or, tables turned, “Ask your mother”?

That’s what the Miami-Dade County Commission did when it left it up to voters to decide whether the county should help finance a renovation of Sun Life Stadium for the Miami Dolphins with revenues from an increase in the hotel tax rate.

Now come the ballots, and the complex deal hammered out by Mayor Carlos Gimenez is boiled down to two cryptic paragraphs.

The initial $7.5 million the county will give the Dolphins, the ballot says, will be “adjusted annually for growth, from additional tourist room taxes to be levied to modernize the stadium.…”

Meaning we’re not voting even for a set amount of tax money, are we?

After that, the county issues a potentially bigger taxpayer-funded check — based on what growth? — to finance a private business’ renovation plans.

With a yes-vote, we’re also voting for a tax-hike (no number listed) on hotel rooms in Miami-Dade while the stadium’s neighbor, Broward, gets a free ride.

The deal, the ballot says, is conditioned on:

• The Dolphins remaining “long-term in County.” The ballot doesn’t say what long-term is, though the agreement the team inked with the county says it’ll be 30 years.

• Private funding for the majority of costs.

• Stadium owners paying the county at least $112 million in 30 years.

• Stadium owners paying penalties up to $120 million for not bringing premier football and soccer events to stadium; and next month the award of a Super Bowl — something the Dolphins can’t guarantee.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t get into contracts without my lawyer reading the fine print. And that job belongs not to the voters but to the county’s commission and its staff — the county’s managers, financial gurus and attorneys. They didn’t have the political backbone to make an informed, wise decision for the good of the citizens — what they were elected to do — and so they passed the buck on to us.

No matter the outcome, they’re safe. But we, the taxpayers, aren’t.

Certainly, this deal is not the scandalous giveaway of the Marlins’ new ballpark.

The Dolphins are paying more than 50 percent of the $350 million renovation while the Marlins only invested 25 percent. The Dolphins pay property taxes on the stadium (the land is the county’s), and the Marlins don’t because the county owns the ballpark.

But if the deal Gimenez negotiated with Dolphins owners is so good, why didn’t the commission vote to approve it instead of holding a $5 million referendum (which the Dolphins readily agreed to pay)?

Better yet, why doesn’t the Miami Dolphins franchise undertake the upgrade that they can afford or get a loan from a bank, and leave the hotel tax alone, its dollars to fund greater needs?

If your mother told you to ask your father, it was because she — and you — knew the answer: No.

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