DeSantis blocks state money for Tampa Bay Rays training facility after team tweets against gun violence

DeSantis used his veto power on Thursday to eliminate $35 million for a youth sports training and tournament complex in the Tampa Bay-area Pasco County that local officials hoped could serve new player development center for the Rays. On Friday, he said he cut the funding because “I don’t support giving taxpayers’ money to professional sports stadiums.”

But a source said the Republican leader didn’t make up his mind until the Rays took an organizational stance calling for action in the wake of the latest mass shootings.

Two days after a gunman killed 19 children and two adults at a Texas elementary school, the Rays announced a $50,000 donation to Everytown for Gun Safety, an organization that advocates gun violence prevention policies . Major League Baseball team also tweeted a statement calling to action.

“This can’t be normal,” the tweet read. “We can’t become insensitive. We can’t look away. We all know that if nothing changes, nothing will change.”

It wouldn’t be the first time DeSantis has acted against a company that has taken a political stance against him. DeSantis signed a bill in April to strip Disney of special government status in Florida after the company publicly criticized a new state law that prohibits certain classroom instructions about the sexual orientation and identity of gender.

DeSantis alluded Friday to his displeasure with the Rays’ remarks, telling reporters at a press conference that it was “inappropriate to subsidize the political activism of a private company.” But he added: “Either way, it’s not appropriate, but we weren’t in a situation where using taxpayers’ money for a professional stadium would have been prudent use.”

A spokeswoman for the Rays did not respond to a request for comment.

Pasco County had successfully lobbied state lawmakers to include $35 million in the budget for a sports complex in Odessa that would provide “community facilities for general recreation, youth/amateur/professional baseball and softball, sports tourism and other programs and events”. according to budget request. It was hoped the Rays would move their practice operations to the complex.

DeSantis was skeptical of the proposal, the source said. The governor thought it might bother residents of Port Charlotte — home to the Rays’ current spring training facility — if he helped the team relocate to another part of Florida, and he didn’t think that it would bring a lot of economic benefits to move the ray drive operation from one part of the state to another.

The new complex also needed the Rays and local governments each to contribute $35 million, which they had yet to formally commit to, another sticking point for the governor.

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But DeSantis – who grew up as a little league star in Dunedin, not far from where the Rays finally opened their St. Petersburg baseball stadium – wasn’t entirely opposed to the project until let the Rays donate to Everytown and comment on the tragedies. on Twitter. It made things politically easier, the source said.

DeSantis has in the past opposed tougher gun laws. As a 2018 gubernatorial candidate, he spoke out against gun control measures in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act, signed into law by the then governor. Rick Scott, a Republican, after the mass shooting at a school in Parkland, Florida. DeSantis recently pledged to support legislation allowing people to carry guns in public without a license.

Kathryn Starkey, chair of the Pasco County Board of Commissioners, said she was unaware DeSantis’ veto may have been related to the Rays’ recent advocacy against gun violence and did not comment. on this subject. But she said she was “disappointed” the money wasn’t there for a new training center.

“Everyone I spoke to in the community was excited about the possibility of the player development complex coming, but we’re going to keep talking to the Rays and try to come to an agreement,” Starkey said. “It makes things more difficult.”

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