The Marlins weren’t commenting today, but you know they have to pleased the Florida Supreme Court revised its opinion in the Strand v. Escambia County case from a year ago and ruled that bonds could be issued on large public works projects without a public referendum. Read the ruling here.
Not that the Marlins, Miami-Dade County or the city of Miami ever thought a public vote was necessary for the $515 million ballpark project, despite auto dealer Norman Braman’s contention in his lawsuit that all the projects included in the $3 billion Miami mega-plan should be subject to a vote. The ballpark does not rely on property tax dollars, but the mega-plan, which includes the port tunnel and performing arts center debt, links it to projects that do.
That’s what Braman refers to as a “shell game” – the plan to expand Miami’s Community Redevelopment Agencies (CRAs) to generate millions of property tax dollars -- meant for poor neighborhoods -- to pay debt on the arts center, to free up hotel bed tax dollars to use on other projects, such as the ballpark. Braman is adamant the public deserves the right to vote on the projects.
Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Jeri Beth Cohen put off ruling on the final count in Braman’s lawsuit – whether a public vote was needed on a portion of the financing for the mega-plan – while she awaited the Supreme Court’s decision in the Strand case. It isn’t clear when she will rule, but she has scheduled a hearing for Monday.
City and county officials couldn’t have been happier with the news from Tallahassee, which they say reinstates their ability to use CRA dollars to improve impoverished neighborhoods.
“I’m very happy because of the Supreme Court ruling that was issued today, however, like we’ve said all along that decision really had nothing to do with the funding for the stadium, but it certainly had a lot to do with utilizing monies to incur the debt on performing arts center,” Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez said.
Miami Mayor Manny Diaz said the Supreme Court could have prevented municipalities from carrying out important projects.
“It’s not just about the stadium,” Diaz said. “It’s about building affordable housing and infrastructure and fixing up the parks in the area, building streets and sidewalks and flood mitigation, job creation-type projects. That’s the best shot you have to redevelop and revitalize an area that’s been underserved.
“It’s very exciting,” he continued. “I thought if the ruling had gone the other way, it would have effectively eliminated this tool … to help communities do these type of projects.”
Braman, however, wasn’t so giddy. He said his legal team is studying the ruling and he vowed, again, to fight on.
“We’re going to be moving ahead on an appellate basis on all the other counts,” said Braman, who appears on the Forbes 400 list of richest Americans for the first time this year. “We would have liked to see it go the other way.”
The court’s 4-2 opinion included the dissenting opinion of Justice R. Fred Lewis, who used an interesting choice of words that echo Braman: “The local-government shell game, which is played to avoid the Florida voter, should not be sanctioned by this tribunal.”
Meanwhile, city and county officials hope to be able to present definitive construction management, financing and other agreements spelling out the details of the ballpark’s construction to their respective commissions next month.