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Amy Sherman
By Amy Sherman May 20, 2014

Sorting out tax breaks for David Beckham's Miami soccer stadium

"Tax deal" and "stadium" are fighting words if you put them in the same sentence in Miami-Dade County.

Taxpayers were so angry over the public financing that paid for most of the Miami Marlins ballpark -- which failed to produce big crowds or revitalize the area -- that they recalled County Mayor Carlos Alvarez and Commissioner Natacha Seijas.

Now opponents of David Beckham’s proposed soccer stadium at PortMiami are trying to tap into voters’ distaste for tax breaks in a TV ad that shows concerned looking couples paying bills:

"Why won’t the out of town port stadium developers tell us about the special tax deal that lets them off the hook for $2 million in taxes every year for 30 years. You think you could not pay taxes for 30 years? Now we find out it's Miami-Dade families who have to pay taxes to help give them parking garages."

The music then turns sinister as a photo of the boogeyman in Miami sports -- the Marlins’ stadium -- appears on the screen.

"Remind you of anything?" the narrator asks. "Miami deserves better."

The ad is paid for by the Miami Seaport Alliance, led by Royal Caribbean Cruises, which fought against the stadium site at the port close to the cruise line’s headquarters.

PolitiFact Florida previously fact-checked an alliance ad that the port stadium proposal "threatens the 207,000 jobs and $27 billion economic impact tied to the cargo and cruise industries" and rated it False.

Here we will fact-check the statement that Beckham will be "off the hook for $2 million in taxes every year for 30 years."

The ad ran on TV in mid-May days before Beckham announced that he would drop the port site in favor of a site downtown. The tax deal that the ad mentioned still exists regardless of the site, however.

Legislature approved sales tax subsidy

The site now favored by Beckham would involve filling in a boat slip downtown. The city and county both own portions of the site, making the deal somewhat complicated.

The Miami Herald reported that a possible agreement could involve the stadium not paying property taxes but making an annual payment in lieu of taxes to the city and rent to the county. This site has its detractors, including environmental activists and those who oppose building along the shoreline.

The ad doesn’t explain what type of "tax deal" Beckham is seeking. The answer: Beckham says he will privately finance construction of a stadium, but plans to apply for a state sales tax subsidy. This spring, he worked the halls of Tallahassee posing with legislators taking selfies as he lobbied for the deal.

The TV ad pointed viewers to House Bill 7095, which was approved by the state Legislature by wide margins in May. Scott has said he plans to sign the bill. The bill adds soccer to the types of sports franchises that can compete for sales tax rebates for construction projects.

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Here’s how it works: When fans buy certain items at the stadium -- such as t-shirts or food -- they pay a sales tax. That amount is 7 percent including a 1 percent add-on for Miami-Dade.

Typically a little less than 90 percent of sales tax is distributed to state general revenue which can go toward everything from fixing roads to paying teachers or prison guards. Most of the remainder is shared with counties and cities which can also use them for their general revenues.

But under the bill, sports facilities, including the Miami soccer stadium, would get a rebate of 75 percent of the sales taxes from the new development.

And the bill speeds up the process for Beckham’s stadium in Miami, as well as an Orlando soccer stadium and the Daytona International Speedway. The three projects could share in about $7 million in tax breaks next year, according to the Miami Herald.

Beginning in 2015-16, a total of $13 million would be available to multiple sports franchises, including soccer, football and NASCAR.

The amount of potential annual subsidies escalates based on the size of the investment -- construction projects of more than $200 million could get up to $3 million a year for 30 years, while projects in the $100 million to $200 million range could get $2 million a year.

The stadium at the port was estimated to cost $250, including additional infrastructure costs, but the cost of the downtown site wasn’t immediately clear.

The state Department of Economic Opportunity would rank the proposals from sports franchises, but the Legislature would make the final call. Teams would be forced to return the money if they generated less sales tax revenues than anticipated or left the state.

We sent the ad to spokespersons for Miami Beckham United, who did not dispute the amount of the tax subsidy cited in the ad.

"These funds are considered a sales tax rebate for spending generated by stadium activity that would otherwise not occur, such as fans buying a hot dog at the game, a t-shirt at the team store or a meal at a stadium restaurant," said John Alschuler, strategic advisor to Miami Beckham United.

We also sent the ad’s statement about the special tax break to Kurt Wenner, vice president of tax research at Florida TaxWatch, a business-backed organization that takes a critical look at state taxes and spending.

"As is often the case with these things, it’s a matter of semantics. It is not a tax break. It does not let anyone off the hook for taxes," Wenner told PolitiFact Florida.

Sales taxes are still collected on sales at the stadium, but the owners get a subsidy of 75 percent of the additional sales tax collected due to the project. "So, it is not a tax break, but the result is basically the same, recipients will get up to $3 million annually of taxpayer money."

Our ruling

The alliance’s ad says Beckham’s soccer stadium would get a "special tax deal that lets them off the hook for $2 million in taxes every year for 30 years."

The ad correctly cites the numbers, though it omits some caveats: Beckham could get at least $2 million every year for 30 years, in the form of a sales tax subsidy. But it’s not an automatic slam dunk, since Beckham would have to apply for it. Though Beckham’s star power certainly influenced legislators to add soccer to the list of eligible franchises, it’s not a "special tax deal" exclusively for Beckham’s project.

The main point of this statement is largely correct: Beckham is poised to get at least $2 million a year in rebates from the sales tax.

We rate this claim Mostly True.

Our Sources

Miami Seaport Alliance, TV ad "Kick", May 13, 2014

Florida House, House Bill 7095 Professional Sports Facilities, Senate and House votes May 2, 2014

Miami Herald, "Downtown boat slip now top choice for David Beckham’s MLS stadium," May 19, 2014

Miami Herald, "For David Beckham, latest soccer stadium site poses new challenges," May 10, 2014

Miami Herald, "Florida lawmakers pave way for tax breaks for pro sports," May 2, 2014

Miami Herald, "David Beckham investors hire Tallahassee lobbyist for Miami soccer stadium," Jan. 10, 2014

Miami Herald, "Beckham bends ears of lawmakers in Tallahassee," March 25, 2014

Miami Herald, "As Beckham presses case in Miami, soccer deals a mixed bag for cities around the country," March 29, 2014

Miami Herald, "Two sides trade jabs in debate over major league soccer stadium," April 20, 2014

PolitiFact, "David Beckham’s proposed soccer stadium at the port threatens jobs and economic impact, Miami Seaport Alliance says," May 14, 2014

PolitiFact, "Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria says tourists -- not taxpayers -- paid most of public cost for stadium," March 5, 2013

Interview, Bruce Rubin, rbb Public Relations spokesman for Miami Beckham United, May 15, 2013

Interview, John Alschuler, strategic adviser to Miami Beckham United, May 16, 2014

Interview, John Fox, president of the Miami Seaport Alliance and Royal Caribbean lobbyist, May 15, 2014

Interview, Ryan Duffy, Florida House spokesman, May 16, 2014

Interview, Kurt Wenner, vice president tax research Florida TaxWatch, May 15, 2014

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Sorting out tax breaks for David Beckham's Miami soccer stadium

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