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State funding for Cubs spring facility “dead”; Florida explores new money for luring Cactus League teams

A state plan to help fund a new Chicago Cub spring-training facility in Mesa is all but dead, according to legislators; meanwhile, Florida revs up state program for spring-training financial aid.

A state plan to help fund a new Chicago Cub spring-training facility in Mesa is all but dead, according to legislators; meanwhile, Florida revs up state program for spring-training financial aid.

The proposal would have slapped a surcharge on all Cactus League teams to refill the depleted coffers of the Arizona Sports and Tourism Authority (ASTA), which had funded much of the spring-training-facility growth in the last decade; in turn ACTA would have helped fund a new Cubs facility as well as potential upgrades for other teams, including the Milwaukee Brewers and Oakland Athletics. Opposition from the teams as well as cities (Surprise, Goodyear, Glendale) bearing the brunt of the ticket surcharge helped kill the measure for this session, though there's always a very small chance a special session could be called to address the issue.

From what we've been told there are two directions currently under discussion. The first is to come back next session with a more comprehensive proposal in conjunction with other efforts to establish tax-increment financing (TIF) in the state of Arizona. Many political leaders want to see the establishment of TIF districts in the state: basically, a TIF district uses increased taxes generated by a development to help pay for it, either through low-interest financing or direct funding. Other states rely on TIF districts to great effect; done right they are an established economic-development tool. MLB Commissioner Bud Selig had pushed for the establishment of TIF districts to help pay for a new Cubs project, but such a dramatic addition to the Arizona tax code was too much for legislators to tackle this session of the state legislature, which adjourns at the end of the month.

A delay does complicate things: the deal between Mesa and the Cubs calls for state funding to be in place by July 12. That deadline could be extended if both sides agree; we're guessing it will be, especially if Selig thinks progress is being made on a funding plan.

The other option — albeit a secondary one that no one particularly loves — is to keep the Cubs at HoHoKam Park and use proceeds from a proposed Mesa bond sale to fund renovations. A referendum on the bond sale is expected to be on the November ballot and, if approved, should make some $28 million available for a ballpark project. Mesa leaders are expected to put the issue before voters even if there's no soiid ballpark plan.

Meanwhile, Florida may be on the verge of doing something to lure the Cubs and perhaps the Brewers: the House Appropriations Committee on Friday unanimously approved a bill providing money for Florida communities luring MLB teams from Arizona.

The bill also directs the Office of Tourism, Trade and Economic Development to map the future of spring training in the state. The full House will take up the measure in coming weeks.

Any state aid would be a welcome boost to a proposed Cubs training facility in the Naples area. The project could use a boost: the word is that the Naples group never actually put forward a solid spring-training-facility plan with all the funding sources in place (a local tourism tax would have helped to partly fund the project, but private financing never emerged). The Brewers reportedly are a secondary target; their lease at Maryvale Baseball Park ends next year.

Two week ago we wrote this: "From what we've heard, we're relatively certain the final plan for the Cubs in Mesa still hasn't seen the light of day." If anything we're even more certain this is true.

RELATED STORIES: Selig pushes Cubs aside, will directly negotiate funding of new spring venue; Cities: We would bear brunt of Cactus League ticket tax; Legislators: Yup, we want Cactus League ticket tax; Cubs: We're not wedded to idea of Cactus League ticket tax; Cactus League teams, Selig oppose Cubs spring-training funding; Mesa to ask for state aid to keep Cubs; Cubs seriously looking at Naples spring-training bid; Naples: We're serious about landing the Cubs; Ricketts to visit Mesa next week to tour potential spring-training sites; Lawmaker: Florida should up spending to lure spring camps for Cubs, Brewers; Cubs' spring-training future doesn't lie in HoHoKam Park; Mesa delegation to pitch Cubs on spring-training facilities

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