Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Questions raised over raising tourism tax to improve football stadium

Another op-ed from the Herald:

As chairman of the Miami Beach Convention Center Advisory Board involved in the current Convention Center initiative, I have followed the effort of the Miami Dolphins and Super Bowl Host Committee as they attempt to raise the bed tax to renovate Sun Life Stadium. Several questions have not yet been addressed.

Having spent more than 50 years as a tourism/hotel executive in Florida and founder of the Greater Miami & The Beaches Hotel Association, I have a unique perspective on Florida's tourist taxes. I was involved in 1967 when the first tourist tax was created and again in the creation of the current county Tourist Development Tax now collected in 62 counties throughout Florida.

In order to increase the Tourist Development Tax from 6 percent to 7 percent in Miami-Dade County, proponents have purposely ignored and avoided going public with a simple fact: There is a cap of 6 percent on tourist taxes. Miami-Dade, Duval, Volusia, Orange and Osceola counties have already reached the 6-percent cap.

The Department of Revenue is clear. It states: "Depending on a county's eligibility to levy, the tax rate varies from a minimum of 3 percent to a maximum of 6 percent."

Under "Additional Professional Sports Franchise Facility Tax," Miami-Dade and Volusia are not eligible to levy the tax. A "Report On Florida's Tourist Related Taxes" issued by the state, within the local-option tourist development statute, states that "a variety of conditions exist making it possible for the county governing board to raise the rate to 6 percent." Why has this not been brought out and discussed at the previous committee hearings in Tallahassee?

How can the rate be increased from 6 percent to 7 percent if the Legislature has not lifted the cap? If it's not lifted, does this make the referendum in Miami-Dade County illegal? How can local initiatives override state statutes? Shouldn't those counties previously mentioned be allowed to exceed the cap? Shouldn't this issue be addressed before the citizens of Miami-Dade County spend $5 million of their own tax money to vote on this issue, then find out it was illegal?

This will be the first time that public money will be used to subsidize a privately owned sports team and venue, not just for renovation but also to operate and maintain. The Marlins Ballpark and AmericanAirlines Arena, along with other professional sports venues in Florida, are all publicly owned.

Consider the Fontainebleau Miami Beach. This landmark hotel fills 1,500 rooms on a daily basis with tourists and conventions. It is the largest revenue producer of bed tax and sales tax in Miami-Dade County, not just during football season or a Super Bowl game. Shouldn't we subsidize it or at least have contributed public money to its recent billion-dollar renovation?

A recent PolitiFact story indicated the $500-million figure being used as the economic impact of the Super Bowl is false. Figures range from $100 million to $500 million, depending on whom you believe. In a message to his members, the chairman of the Greater Miami and the Beaches Hotel Association said, "Many of our board said the revenue impact of a Super Bowl is marginal compared to the rates and [revenue per available room] from regular business during that time of the year."

The proposed $3 million sales tax rebate creating a new category, "renovating a sports facility," has triggered three other bills looking for rebates. These monies — funds that directly impact the quality of life of all state residents — would result in taking $12 million a year for 30 years out of general revenue. That's $360 million unavailable for Floridians.

This, by the way, is in addition to the eight sports venues currently collecting a $2-million rebate for 30 years.

In 2010, the renovation cost was more than $220 million. This time, it's $400 million, and the current amended bill reflects $300 million. Whom are we to believe? Let's not leave out the almost 4,000 additional luxury field seats with 100 percent of the revenue going to the Dolphins.

If the referendum fails in May, will Miami still be in the running for the 2016-2017 game? Will they be allowed to bid without a canopy and HD lighting? If the referendum fails, will owner Stephen Ross, in order to secure the game, pay for the upgrades so that the community can enjoy the financial rewards he has promised?

On a recent talk show, Dolphins President Mike Dee was asked, "Isn't this welfare for a billionaire?" Dee's answer was that, "Just because somebody is wealthy enough doesn't mean he should invest money in a way that is unwise."

If that is the case, why should we?

Stuart Blumberg is founder and former president and CEO of the Greater Miami & The Beaches Hotel Association.

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