Joe Henderson, Author at Florida Politics - Page 5 of 15

Joe Henderson

I have a 45-year career in newspapers, including the last nearly 42 years at The Tampa Tribune. I covered a large variety of things, primarily in sports but also including hard news. The two intertwined in the decade-long search to bring Major League Baseball to the area. I also was the City Hall reporter for two years and covered all sides of the sales tax issue that ultimately led to the construction of Raymond James Stadium. I served as a full-time sports columnist for about 10 years before moving to the metro news columnist for the last 4 ½ years. I have numerous local, state and national writing awards. I have been married to my wife, Elaine, for nearly 35 years and have two grown sons – Ben and Patrick.

Push is on to decriminalize minor youth offenses

Let’s say you’re a teenager and you do something stupid. I know, hard to believe, right?

Maybe you get caught with a small amount of pot, or you’re in the wrong place when a fight breaks out. Maybe you’re out with the guys and ended up someplace you shouldn’t, or you committed a petty theft.

You’ve never broken the law before, but someone called the cops and soon you’re handcuffed in the back of a squad car with a record that will stick to you like gum on the bottom of your shoe. Potential employers, college admissions officers and just everyone else will want to know what happened the night you went stupid.

That’s why it’s encouraging that Senate President Joe Negron is aggressively trying to decriminalize these minor transgressions. Sen. Anitere Flores, a Miami Republican, has filed Senate Bill 196 as part of the effort to back up Negron’s plea to “not criminalize adolescence.”

Negron isn’t talking about letting teens who commit serious crimes off the hook. He is talking nickel-and-dime stuff, like the time when George H.W. Bush was running against Ronald Reagan for the Republican nomination for president. Negron slipped over to Bush’s home on Jupiter Island and put Reagan stickers on his mailbox.

Instead of arresting him, the cops told him to go back and clean up the box. But then came the push for zero tolerance for any infraction and things that in the past would have earned the youthful offender a stern talking-to started resulting in the kind of punishment that never really goes away.

The Southern Poverty Law Center reported in 2015 that Florida prosecuted more than 10,000 minors in a five-year period – the highest total in the nation. It told how juveniles are often housed with adult inmates, leading to abuse and injuries.

The SPLC’s reported added that the “Justice Policy Institute found that it costs as much as $55,407 a year to lock up a young person in Florida, although the Department of Juvenile Justice’s budget suggests the cost could be twice that amount. These policies also fail to make us safer. An adult court conviction diminishes opportunities for education and future employment. And children become more likely to reoffend, not less.”

That’s why getting someone with Negron’s power behind this push is essential. Turning certain misdemeanors into a citation instead of a police record is smart and overdue. Hopefully, his colleagues in Tallahassee agree.

Will Weatherford’s decision enhances, not removes, future options

I think Will Weatherford’s just-announced decision not to run for governor in 2018 merely delays the inevitable. I believe he will be Florida’s governor eventually, and that will be a good thing.

Weatherford, the Land O’Lakes Republican, is a smart, articulate, center-right conservative in the Jeb Bush tradition. He has a strong legislative resume, including a turn as House Speaker. At age 37, he also is young enough that he can afford to wait eight years, which is another way of saying “Merry Christmas, Adam Putnam.”

The sea certainly does seem to be parting among Republicans for Putnam to make his move on the governor’s mansion. Florida CFO Jeff Atwater has shown no appetite for the job. Attorney General Pam Bondi is more likely targeted for a job in Washington.

Weatherford would have been a formidable challenger, but says his top concern right now is family.

He has four children – the oldest is 8, the youngest is 2. Last year he and his brothers Drew and Sam launched Weatherford Partners, a venture capital group, and serves as managing partner. Tellingly, he did not fall into the Republican conga line in the presidential race. He said he did not vote for Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton.

His decision to sit out the governor’s race this time removes a lot of drama, for sure. Weatherford and Putnam are pals, but so were Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio and we saw how that went.

If Weatherford had gotten into the race, it could have gotten bloody for Republicans. Having two candidates as strong and well-known as Putnam and Weatherford could have split the party, but what this does is increase the likelihood of a Putnam coronation for the nomination.

It allows Putnam to stay low-key for the next year or so, stockpiling cash and support while waiting for the Democrat slugfest between Gwen Graham (assuming her husband’s prostate cancer doesn’t worsen) and possibly Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn.

Weatherford can campaign now for Putnam, and wouldn’t a photo of the two of them together on a platform make for a mighty fine poster for Republicans?

Weatherford will need to find a way to stay in the public eye. As he saw with Jeb Bush, sitting on the sidelines for too long in politics means someone else is getting all the headlines. A cabinet job or gubernatorial appointment to a public post could both keep him in the news and allow him to tend to family matters.

Deciding for now to wait doesn’t remove Weatherford’s options. If anything, it enhances them. If his aim is to one day sit in the governor’s chair – and, really, why wouldn’t it be – then stepping back now doesn’t hurt his chances one bit.

Rick Scott wants it both ways: cut taxes, fund services. Can it be done?

Last April, in a news release by his office after signing HB-7099, Gov. Rick Scott bragged, “Over the past two years, Florida has cut more than $1 billion in taxes.”

What a happy day that must have been for the governor.

He has never met a tax he wouldn’t cut or gut, and that bill was a continuation of the theme. It included the permanent elimination of the sales tax on manufacturing machinery and a three-day sales tax holiday for back-to-school stuff.

Scott wants to keep cutting taxes, too.

It stands to reason, though, when there is less money coming in something has to lose. We got a hint of that right here in a story last week on FloridaPolitics.com. It included a quote from state budget chair Jack Latvala about what could be a hotly contested fight for dollars when the Legislature gets together next year.

“To do any increases, we’re going to have to find areas to cut. That’s a certainty,” Latvala said. “Just my luck to be chairman in a year like that.”

But where can the hunt to “find areas to cut” lead when the governor and House Speaker Richard Corcoran want to keep chopping taxes, while Senate President Joe Negron wants to increase funding for higher education?

The Florida Policy Institute reported that more about 70 percent of Florida’s $82.2 billion budget for 2016-17 was allocated to education (29 percent) and “human services” (41 percent). Nearly 18 percent went to natural resources, growth management and transportation.

FPI also noted that despite spending increases in that budget for service areas, “they fail to fund state services at a level that keeps pace with population growth and inflation, and do not improve Florida’s national standing in the provision of these services.”

More ominously, projections are for the state to face a $1.3 billion deficit a year from now, ballooning to $1.9 billion the year after that. Since Republicans control the governor’s mansion and both chambers of the Legislature, they can’t blame Democrats for fiscal irresponsibility. That leaves them with two choices: spend less, or bring in more.

It’s the acid test of the Republican (and Libertarian) ideal that growth comes through lower taxes. It’s the mantra they’ve preached for decades. We see it playing out now in Washington with the corporate tax cuts president-elect Donald Trump has planned.

Lower corporate taxes, they argue, will lead to job creation and expansion. Workers with a healthy regular paycheck will buy more things and that will sustain the government.

Well, that might be sort of true – provided government goes on a diet. That sounds fine in theory. In application, though, it gets trickier.

You also have to look at the complete picture. To coax businesses from other states to move here, Scott has touted Florida’s reputation as a low-tax state. Florida is one of just seven states without a state income tax, for instance.

Wallethub.com also sized up the bevy of state and local taxes and concluded Florida’s bite on median-income residents this year will be $4,868 – 10th lowest in the nation. That’s nearly 16 percent under the national average.

Scott probably wouldn’t be satisfied until Florida is No. 1. He seems driven to prove this state really can have it both ways – cutting taxes, cutting spending while keeping services and education adequately funded for a rapidly growing state.

Logic says that can’t be done. Latvala’s challenge is to prove it can be.

Richard Corcoran battle over Pitbull, Visit Florida contract sets the right tone

There has been a lot to like about the tone new House Speaker Richard Corcoran has set in Tallahassee. There is a new emphasis on ethics and disclosure of how the people’s representatives do their business — and more importantly who they do it for.

We all benefit from that.

That includes, especially, Corcoran’s insistence this week that details of the $1 million promotional contract between Visit Florida, the state’s tourism promotion arm, and rapper Pitbull be made public.

Pitbull’s production company, PDR Productions, balked, claiming the details were a trade secret and disclosing them would be a third-degree felony. Visit Florida officials also argued that letting the world know details of that contract would the state’s tourism industry at a disadvantage.

That’s not a little deal, of course. In 2015, tourists generated $89.1 billion for the economy here.

It’s ironic, though, that the marketing arm of the Sunshine State would want to keep business in the dark.

That’s why Corcoran sued Pitbull’s company to force details of the contract into the sunlight. Pitbull, whose real name is Armando Christian Pérez, released the contract himself after the issue became a big story.

So all is well and a teapot-sized tempest is stilled, right?

Not yet. Hopefully, it’s just the beginning. This was Corcoran’s latest way of letting everyone know that things are going to change in Tallahassee.

It was never about the contract itself or the wisdom of using Pitbull to promote the state. The cost, frankly, seems reasonable and fair considering the potential return on investment. Pitbull is a fine ambassador for Florida in the highly competitive fight for tourism dollars.

But there was that slippery slope his company and Visit Florida tried to use as a defense, claiming Florida could be hurt if other states knew details of what we’re up to here.

Maybe so.

If other states want to operate in the dark, though, that’s their problem. Florida once had the strongest sunshine law in the country, and despite the efforts of legislators over the years to chip away at it, the law remains a bedrock principle of how the public’s business should be done.

I don’t think there is any question that this contract likely would have remained secret under many other Speakers. It would have been easy for Corcoran to keep the details hidden under that “trade secrets” argument. Besides, it’s only $1 million, right?

What Corcoran said instead, and backed up with his actions, is that there is no “only” when it comes to doing the right thing.

Refreshing.

By asking for more Pier money, Rick Kriseman misreads political mood

If we have learned anything from the just-completed election, it is this: People are fed up with the political status quo. I mean, isn’t that obvious?

Apparently not to St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman.

He wants to shift an additional $14 million into his city’s Pier project, which could bring the overall cost to $80 million. Kriesman’s logic is exactly the reason millions of people voted for Donald Trump.

“I’m looking at, if we invest some more money, we can have a world-class Pier,” Kriseman said in the Tampa Bay Times. “It’s more taking the elements that would exist in the current budget and taking them up another notch.”

Oh dear.

Grab hold of your wallets when mayors and other elected officials start using words like “invest” and “world-class” because it usually means they’re investing in a world-class monument to themselves.

The money would come from a special tax increment financing plan, or TIF district. That sounds good because it doesn’t sock taxpayers directly, but as city council members pointed out some of the TIF money could be directed to other more pressing projects that aren’t as glamorous as the Pier.

Even giving the good mayor the benefit of the doubt on that one, he surely must know that those words “invest” and “world class” are etched on the tombstones of politicians whose careers died because they wanted to take things “up another notch.”

The more prudent approach would be to take the city’s crumbling sewer system “up another notch” – well, a lot more notches, because no one has forgotten the stench in the streets in September after Hurricane Hermine overpowered the wastewater system and sent ca-ca flowing into the streets.

That is a public safety issue.

The Pier is not.

Whatever happened to holding the line on costs?

This doggone Pier was originally supposed to cost $46 million. Google, a wonderful invention, popped up a Times story from about five years ago, that reported if the city would just throw in a few million more the Pier would be a whole lot better.

Sound familiar?

That same story included a promise from officials that they absolutely, positively were going to cap costs at $50 million. It included a great quote from then-Mayor Bill Foster: “For $50 million, people will get a Pier.”

Oh darn.

Well, it’s already at $66 million and now Kriseman wants more. I suspect he is misreading the mood of the voters on this one. I also imagine they will explain that to him at the appropriate time.

After dead veteran scandal, someone needs to say ‘you’re fired’ at Bay Pines VA

I was about to muse aloud why someone hasn’t been fired yet from the Bay Pines Veterans Affairs Health Care System when this statement came in from U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, who represents the district where the facility is located.

“Unsurprisingly, not a single VA employee has been fired following this incident, despite a clear lack of concern and respect for the Veteran. The men and women who sacrificed on behalf of our nation deserve better.”

Yep. Unsurprising.

That is the sad truth in the aftermath of the shocking report late last week that instead of transporting a deceased veteran from the hospice wing at the facility to the morgue, he was left unattended for nine hours, first in the hallway and then in the shower room.

That was bad enough.

But then, as a 24-page report first revealed by the Tampa Bay Times details, there was an attempt to cover up that incident from February before anyone found out. I can only imagine how that went down.

“Uh, what’s this body doing here?”

“I don’t know. Think we should tell someone?”

“Are you kidding? People don’t need to know this. We’ll just tidy things up and pretend this never happened. Let’s get some lunch and figure out a plan.”

That plan, according to the report, included falsifying records. That should be a firing offense right there.

Following this to its logical conclusion, though, it appears that covering your backside, in this case, was a lot more important than doing things right and treating a deceased veteran with the respect he deserved and promised as a quid pro quo for the service he gave to his country.

And hasn’t that been a problem in the VA for a long, long time now?

As Bilirakis says, “The report details a total failure on the part of the Department of Veterans Affairs and an urgent need for greater accountability.”

That “total failure” included numerous breakdowns in procedures for dealing with deceased veterans. There can be no excuse.

Bay Pines is far from the only Veterans Affairs facility to come under fire, and it appears to be a systemwide problem. Issues with the giant agency will be a stain on the legacy of President Obama as he prepares to leave office next month.

For now, as far as we know, no one lost their job at Bay Pines over this, even though it happened about 10 months ago. There apparently was a lot of finger-pointing, according to the report, and attempts to deflect blame, but somebody screwed up big time and needs to pay the price.

A spokesman for Bay Pines told the Times that, “We feel that we have taken strong, appropriate and expeditious steps to strengthen and improve our existing systems and processes within the unit.”

That’s a good thing.

This is one time, though, where it would be smart to borrow a line from incoming President Donald Trump. Whoever is responsible needs to hear those magic words: You’re fired.

Joe Henderson to the Palm Beach Post: Are you freaking crazy?

In 2003, then-Gov. Jeb Bush punished reporters from the Tallahassee bureau of the Palm Beach Post by canceling their invitation to his year-end interview session.

His staff cited the “unprofessional behavior” while dealing with some of Bush’s officials, but the paper suspected it was in retaliation for critical reporting on Bush’s pet school vouchers program. I’m betting on the latter.

As a career newspaper guy until my own paper, The Tampa Tribune, folded in May, I always admired the Post. At its peak, this award-winning newspaper was top-to-bottom one of the best in the land.

That is why I ask this question now to the owners and operators of the Post:

Are you freaking crazy?

That’s a rhetorical question, I know. But it seems apropos after last week’s announcement that the Post will close its Tallahassee bureau. We found out about that from the Facebook page of the Post’s Tally reporter, John Kennedy. He was announcing his own layoff.

“The paper’s future is local and digital, and coverage of the goings-on in the state Capitol don’t meld as well with this direction,” he wrote.

Those words could be on the tombstone of many newspapers that abandoned their own strengths in search of click-bait. Papers throughout the state have decided that all that complicated stuff coming out of Tallahassee is boring to the younger generation and doesn’t bring the digital bang for the buck that newspapers chase in the hope it will bring in enough cash to keep them going.

They’re screwing over readers they do have but declining circulation and readership numbers show they aren’t attracting new ones. Why do you think that is?

They keep trying to reinvent the wheel when what they ought to do is realize that nothing generates clicks like real news. We used to see it all the time at the Tribune on our digital site, TBO.com. If there was a big breaking news story, site traffic would spike and readers became engaged.

Whoever ultimately decides at papers like the Post to go without that news is chasing fool’s gold. They either don’t understand or don’t care that real stories happen because of dedicated and plugged-in reporters who find out stuff that governors and presidents would prefer they didn’t know.

Instead of engaging the public with hard news, publishers push in their chips on dubious strategies like page redesigns and marketing slogans. To cut costs, they lay off reporters and decide, as Kennedy so aptly penned, “coverage of the goings-on in the state Capitol don’t meld” with the modern newspaper.

Then they call a staff meeting or send out a memo and moan about the “tough decisions” they had to make. What they should do is apologize to readers for shirking their responsibility to inform the public what the top elected officials in Florida are doing.

There are a few papers that still do it right. The Tampa Bay Times and Miami Herald have combined forces in Tallahassee for several years. The Florida Times-Union in Jacksonville has been aggressive.

I was at the Tribune when bosses decided coverage in the state capital was a luxury (while maintaining two full-time reporters on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers) – although, I can promise you that wasn’t the feeling in the newsroom. Top editors fought to regain our presence in Tallahassee by hiring Jim Rosica and, later, Jeff Schweers. But the overall trend isn’t good.

Besides the Post, FloridaPolitics.com reported Gatehouse Media, which owns the Sarasota Herald-Tribune among its nine daily newspapers in the state, closed its Tally bureau recently.

Reporters at that level are the firewall between citizens and politicians who don’t have the public’s best interests in mind. They are the one who make sure the pet projects from top leaders aren’t another effort to line someone’s pocket with public cash.

When newspapers decide that’s no longer important enough to have someone on the scene every day, the public isn’t the only loser. When you take the “news” out newspapers, all that’s left is a bird-cage liner.

Florida’s death penalty, a never-ending fight between state, opponents

Convicted murderer Ronald B. Smith reportedly coughed and heaved for 13 minutes Thursday night as the state of Alabama carried out its execution of the condemned murderer.

What does this have to do with Florida?

Maybe plenty.

Florida has applied the death penalty with enthusiasm since it was reinstated here in 1976. The state has executed 92 individuals, trailing only Texas, Oklahoma and Virginia. There are 384 people currently are on death row and awaiting their turn on the lethal injection gurney.

However, thanks to various legal challenges for how the state imposes the death penalty and its method of completing the task, the pace of executions has stalled here. The state has executed only three people in the last two years, its slowest pace since 1996-97 and far below the 15 men Florida sent to the great beyond in 2014-15.

No one can say with any reasonable certainty who will be next. The case in Alabama almost certainly will have an impact here, though, as opponents will use it as an example of what can go wrong.

Ken Faulk, who witnessed the procedure for Al.com, reported that Smith’s execution took 34 minutes to complete. Faulk wrote:

“During 13 minutes of the execution, from about 10:34 to 10:47, Smith appeared to be struggling for breath and heaved and coughed and clenched his left fist after apparently being administered the first drug in the three-drug combination. At times his left eye also appeared to be slightly open.

“A Department of Corrections captain performed two consciousness checks before they proceeded with administering the next two drugs to stop his breathing and heart.”

Smith’s attorneys had challenged the Alabama execution law, claiming the drugs used might not fully sedate a condemned inmate. The drugs used in Florida executions also have been challenged in court.

The News Service of Florida reported this week that the state has been stockpiling the drug etomidate, a sedative that has never has been used in executions. Attorney General Pam Bondi also is challenging a state Supreme Court decision that a portion of the reworked sentencing law is unconstitutional.

Alabama plans to perform an autopsy on Smith’s body to determine what happened during his execution. Its findings could spur more legal challenges that would keep Florida’s death row population stable for the foreseeable future.

All of this comes at a time when public support for the death penalty is declining. Pew Research reported in September that 49 percent of Americans favor capital punishment, its lowest level in about four decades and far below the high-water mark of 80 percent in 1994.

Lethal injection, once seen as a humane way to kill inmates compared to the electric chair and other forms of execution, now is under siege. In his book “Gruesome Spectacles: Botched Executions and America’s Death Penalty,” Amherst College professor Austin Sarat identified 75 flawed executions by lethal injection – 7.12 percent of all those carried out.

He specified the 2006 Florida execution of Angel Diaz, which took 34 minutes to complete after the needle inserted into his vein came out the other side. That prompted then-Gov. Jeb Bush to suspend executions.

Whatever the outcome of this latest misadventure with the death penalty, don’t expect things to change in Florida. The state will keep fighting to execute people, and opponents will keep fighting to stop it. That’s the only certainty here for capital punishment.

The time is right: Embrace Bill Edwards’ bold vision for Rowdies, Al Lang Stadium

I like Bill Edwards’ bold plan to privately finance an $80 million renovation of Al Lang Stadium in downtown St. Petersburg. I like his swagger in going hard to land a spot in Major League Soccer for his Tampa Bay Rowdies to play in that stadium.

I would even go so far to say that the Rowdies and St. Petersburg are a perfect marriage of a city on the move and a sport that Americans increasingly embrace.

Then again, what’s not to like?

In my view, not much.

Edwards resurrected the iconic Rowdies franchise when he purchased controlling interest in the team in 2013. At the news conference announcing the deal, he prophetically said, “sometimes it takes money to make money.

Because Al Lang is on city property and part of the waterfront landscape, his plan must go before voters for approval. The stadium currently seats about 7,000 and would have to be expanded to about 18,000 to meet MLS specifications.

Voters tend to connect the words “sports owner” and “stadium” into a cash grab out of their pockets, so it will take forceful and repeated reminders of the words “privately financed” to calm those fears.

Then, there is the matter of convincing MLS to come here. The league has talked about expanding by up to four teams and cities like Cincinnati, Nashville and St. Louis are among those actively seeking admittance.

Something tells me that isn’t as big an issue as it might seem. In a statement, MLS said in part it is “impressed with (Edwards’) vision and plans for a world-class soccer stadium on the downtown waterfront in St. Petersburg.”

Edwards checks all the boxes the league is looking for: committed local ownership, deep pockets, and located in a city that can support this venture.

St. Pete will need to prove that, of course, before any stadium expansion goes forward. Edwards made it clear he wants to see a waiting list for season tickets, among other things.

Soccer is a different financial animal than Major League Baseball, though and a team in St. Petersburg would not be as dependent on people from Hillsborough and Pasco making regular jaunts across the bay.

Businesses, especially those downtown, would have to love the idea of having soccer crowds visit the waterfront for at least 17 nights per season. Throw in exhibitions, playoffs and possible international matches and the number swells.

There also would be the potential for a new rivalry with the Orlando MLS franchise, although I guess we’d modify the name from “War on I-4” to the “War on I-4, through Malfunction Junction and across the big bridge.”

We’ll work on that one.

Orlando does control territorial rights to St. Petersburg, but the MLS has signaled that it shouldn’t be a major stumbling block should the league decide to expand here.

I was around in 1975 when the original Rowdies took Tampa Bay by storm. I remember sitting in a downpour at old Tampa Stadium to watch them beat the Fort Lauderdale Strikers. I remember the huge crowds for games against the Strikers and New York Cosmos.

Trying to replicate that didn’t work when MLS placed the Tampa Bay Mutiny here a charter member of the league. They played five mostly forgettable seasons before folding. This is a different deal, though.

The league ran the Mutiny because no local owner stepped up and attendance lagged. Ownership is not a problem this time, and for St. Petersburg, well, it’s simple.

This is the right time and the right plan.

Baseball commissioner: Rays stadium is about location, location, location

Another year has almost passed and, so far as we know, nothing much has happened to lead anyone to believe the Tampa Bay Rays are anywhere close to securing a new stadium. But there were two developments this week that seemed to be forces pulling in the opposite direction. That’s never good.

On Monday, as the Tampa Bay Times reported, baseball Commissioner Ron Manfred told reporters that the No. 1 priority for a stadium is location, location, location.

“I think getting, not only a new facility, but a facility that is more appropriately located within the Tampa-St. Pete market would be good,” he said at a Q-and-A session at George Washington University.

In case we didn’t get the message, Manfred added this: “Ultimately, there has to be an end game. If in fact, there’s not a site or there’s not a financial arrangement that’s viable and we become convinced of that, our rules allow for the possibility of relocation. At that point of desperation, it’s possible a team would be allowed to relocate.”

The “end game” got an interesting twist a day later when state Rep. Brian Avila, a Hialeah Republican, filed HB-77. Boiled to its essence, the measure would outlaw pro sports teams from leasing government-owned land to build or renovate a stadium.

A couple of points about all this:

Manfred is correct on his point about the requirement that a new stadium be “appropriately located” in the Tampa Bay market. Right now, it doesn’t look like they’re close.

There has been a lot of chatter about building a new ballpark adjacent to Tropicana Field, but that would just double-down on the original disastrous decision that stuck the Rays in the extreme western part of the marketplace.

The only places that make sense for the long term are downtown Tampa, the Westshore area in Tampa, or a spot in Pinellas off the Howard Frankland Bridge. The Rays have to be in the center of the market. Anything else is a waste of time and money.

The question of money brings us to the second point: How to pay for this.

I’ll conservatively put the cost at $600 million (although I believe it will be higher than that). The Rays will be expected to pony up a large chunk of that cost — perhaps through ticket surcharges and other fees. To do that, they’ll need a large season-ticket base, which in baseball means corporate sales.

Already, businesses in Hillsborough are reluctant to buy Rays’ tickets in mass quantities because clients and employees won’t make weeknight trips through the area’s stifling traffic at rush hour to get to the Trop.

For the sake of argument, let’s say they work out the location requirement and ticket sales spike. That bar is pretty low, by the way. The Rays attracted a little less than 1.3 million fans last year, by far the lowest in baseball.

Based on 2016 attendance figures, Tampa Bay would need an additional 1 million fans per season to be in the middle of the pack (San Diego, at No. 15, drew 2.3 million). That’s a jump of about 14,000 extra fans per game.

Before they can focus on that, though, the question for politicians becomes how to subsidize the stadium cost without having taxpayers storm their offices with pitchforks and flaming torches. We’ve all heard things like dedicating some tourist tax and rental car money, but I’m not even sure that’s feasible. Those industries have potent lobbyists who will be shouting in the ears of people like Brian Avila to keep MLB’s mitts off their money.

This issue has been dragging on for years and the Rays seem stuck in quicksand as a franchise. The way to change that is to heed Manfred’s words about location and stop with the nonsense of shoveling more money into a failed spot.

Nothing else can happen until they move past that.

Then, all they need to do is find a way to pay for it.

Then actually build it.

Then figure a way to put a competitive team in that new building.

To be continued …

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