Citrus Bowl Bust: Spending Other People’s Money is So Much Fun!

Remember the Citrus Bowl deal? Where Mayor Teresa Jacobs and Mayor Buddy Dyer signed a football and cheered a new era of cooperation (yeah right). The rain storms couldn’t prevent this bad deal from going through, although it did force the mayors off the field and prevented the “touchdown” they were hoping for. I waited a little bit to reflect more on the deal and there’s so much wrong with this, there’s no surprise cracks are already suspected in the details of the historic deal.

Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer (l) and Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs (r) sign footballs to seal the new Citrus Bowl deal, June 25, 2012 (Photo: M. Cantone)

First, overall, this is not the original agreement, let’s just be clear about that. The original agreement was clear that there was a priority order and some basic taxpayer protections – Mayor Jacobs knows that personally as she authored the “Jacobs amendment.” Even Dyer joked about it in their meeting. The original agreement basically laid out the order of the venues to be built hoping to ensure that adequate funds were available before starting the next venue. That has helped delay Citrus Bowl construction for years, and the troubled financing has hurt the Performing Arts Center progress. The City of Orlando has no line of credit and needed the county to back their debt.

So, our local leaders changed that priority to get the money flowing for the Bowl. But the money’s not really there, so what kind of agreement is this really? There’s no money, so we have to change what we agreed to in order to make it happen. Confused? That’s the way they like it. But it’s not the way city financing should be with our tax dollars.

Also, as noble as Mayor Jacobs’ “transparency” attempt was by holding a public meeting, Mayor Dyer ended that meeting after a half hour. A lot more went into connecting the dots, and since the agreement that was voted on has changed, how come there was no real public debate or involvement in the process at the end of the day? There were no updated projections on costs. There was no public engagement on the financing.

I do not feel that failed leadership in the form of lack of budget control, overruns, and shoddy financing on other projects (see Amway Center hitting over $500 million and the Performing Arts Center financing crisis that still leaves “phase 2” without a real hope) should be rewarded by changing the deal to hurt the taxpayers. It hurts taxpayers by rewarding that flawed behavior and spending patterns with more of our money. (oh and also, there’s still no money for homeless issuesthough.)

Even during the recent municipal campaign we heard talk of $175 million renovations needed. However, now we are talking about emptying the city reserves to get the project going, then dedicating $360 million in our tax dollars to this and issuing more bonds when our city’s recent track record on bonds is anything but solid. Let’s do a quick recap: Moody’s says nearly every municipal bond has a negative outlook and the only AAA bond listed was Wastewater bonds for Orlando. City officials already stated at City Council that Orlando isn’t really responsible for paying back the Amway bonds (that means they are junk). While there may be a few positives in renovations, at the end of the day this is a horrible deal for taxpayers. Now, Orlando will pay at least $1 million every month for the next 30 years to pay off this new debt. Dyer will issue around $140 million in bonds using a mix of city revenues as the credit source. That’s scary enough. But the bond payments will be estimated at about $12 million a year for 30 years.

The winners will end up being big business interests – probably many of the power suits who joined the Mayors for their first meeting. Not like they were putting pressure on anyone by swarming the room with the people who can write a lot of campaign checks. In this deal, those very business interests are not adequately sharing the burden here at all yet they will reap the benefit.

Finally, the renovations being called for include: a ballroom, a banquet hall, luxury suites, and new lower bowl seats which will actually make ticket prices increase. That’s right, a ballroom. Luxury suites. Higher ticket prices. Not many local people are going to even get to enjoy this facility yet we are now about to be locked in for 30 years to this debt. $360 million, at least.

I don’t care if it’s hard to move tourist tax dollars to other things like education or transportation, we can do a lot better than that right now in our city with that kind of money. What happens when in 7 years, or even 12 years, we actually need to spend large amounts of money on critical situations or infrastructure and it’s not there. Credit card declined.

 

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