Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Vocal Minority Will Continue to Plague Rays

If you polled Tampa Bay taxpayers, I bet a majority would oppose spending tax dollars on a new Rays stadium right now. But the numbers would be close. And, depending on how the funding broke down, you may even be able to get a majority to support the idea.

But the small group of anti-tax advocates in Tampa Bay are getting louder by the day and will be very hard to overcome.

Example 1: At last night's Pinellas Commission meeting, where the board made the tough decision to extend the tourist tax at five cents until 2021 for tourist-related funding, a half-dozen residents yelled at the board for considering a handout to the Rays.

The only problem was that - while the bed tax extension kept the funding structure in place for a possible future stadium - yesterday's vote was specifically about reserving money for the new Dali Museum, beach renourishment, and tourism marketing.

Nevertheless, the continued overtures to a Rays stadium made several commissioners visually uncomfortable and no matter how many times commissioners and St. Pete Mayor Bill Foster reminded folks that a new stadium plan would require multiple future votes, the explosive issue could not be diffused.

Example 2: While I was doing our 11pm liveshot (it was a MARATHON meeting), I missed a confrontation between the Tea Partiers in the audience and Mayor Bill Foster. St. Petersburg Times writer David DeCamp explains:

But the night certainly created fireworks. At the end, Foster got nearly nose-to-nose with tax opponent Hamilton Hanson in a hallway. Hanson accused Foster of secretly engaging in talks with the Rays.

"It's not taking place, I'll tell you that straight to your face right now," Foster said before seeking an elevator.

Leaving the county building, several of the loud opponents cursed the Democratic process to me as well.

What this shows is that - after the 2008 stadium debacle - the stadium conspiracy theorists aren't going away. And, after the 2010 election, they feel more empowered than ever. Any effort to work toward a new Rays stadium won't have to just overcome monsterous funding issues, but also elected officials' fear in addressing the issue.

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