TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) - Florida legislators have agreed to pitch in millions more in state money to help pro baseball teams - even in cases where a team wants to move from one Florida town to another.
State legislators working on a final round of budget negotiations agreed Monday evening to spend $3.3 million a year starting in 2015 to help cities and counties to spruce up or build new ballparks.
A key element in the proposal would call for the state to help pay for the cost of a new stadium that would be used by two Major League Baseball teams.
This incentive is aimed at helping pay for a proposed stadium that would be used by the Houston Astros and the Toronto Blue Jays in Palm Beach Gardens. The Astros currently train in Kissimmee while the Blue Jays train in Dunedin.
Rep. Ritch Workman, R-Melbourne and lead House negotiator on tax issues, defended the proposal as a way to keep teams from relocating to the Cactus League in Arizona.
He said more and more Major League Baseball teams in Florida are looking to locate close to one another to cut down on travel time.
"You can't make your stars drive so far," said Workman. "They needed to move, and unfortunately, we're not the only state that offers these things."
This year marks the 125th anniversary of spring training in Florida. There are currently 15 Major League teams training in the state. In recent years, the Los Angeles Dodgers, Cincinnati Reds, Cleveland Indians, Kansas City Royals, Texas Rangers and Chicago White Sox have moved their camps to Arizona.
The state already has spent more than $40 million in the past decade on spring training incentives, but the state put a cap on the amount of money and number of cities that could qualify for the funding.
Gov. Rick Scott called on lawmakers earlier this year to set aside $5 million a year for spring training incentives. It was initially unclear if the push for spring training money would collide with efforts by other sports team - including the Miami Dolphins - seeking state money for their stadiums.
The Florida Senate later this week will consider a bill that would force all pro teams to compete against each other for state money. But it's unclear if the House will go along with the proposal.
Workman said that despite what happens to the Dolphins legislation, it was important to reach a deal to help keep Major League Baseball teams from leaving the state.
"Spring training does bring millions of tourists to our state in the off-season," Workman said. "They come stay in our hotels. They eat in our restaurants. It does have a significant impact."
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