Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis vetoes funding for possible Tampa Bay Rays facility

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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) on Thursday vetoed $35 million in state spending for a youth sports complex in Pasco County, a project that had been pitched as a potential spring training site for the Tampa Bay Rays.

The money was included in the $112 billion budget plan sent to DeSantis by state legislators earlier this year. DeSantis, however, has line-item authority to veto specific expenditures, and he used that to cut a record $3.1 billion out of the initial budget proposal.

On May 26, the Rays issued a statement decrying the recent mass shootings in Buffalo and Uvalde, Texas, and said the franchise would be making a $50,000 donation to Everytown for Gun Safety, a gun-violence prevention organization.

“This cannot become normal,” the team statement read. “We cannot become numb. We cannot look the other way. We all know, if nothing changes, nothing changes.”

At a public speaking engagement Friday, DeSantis said he doesn’t “support giving taxpayer dollars to professional sports stadiums, period.” But DeSantis, a gun-rights supporter who is pushing the state to allow residents to carry concealed firearms without a permit, also suggested that the Rays’ support of a gun-control organization also factored into his decision.

“Companies are free to engage or not engage in whatever discourse they want, but clearly it’s inappropriate to be doing tax dollars for professional sports stadiums,” he said. “It’s also inappropriate to subsidize political activism of a private corporation. Either way, it’s not appropriate. But we were not in a situation where use of tax dollars for a professional stadium would have been a prudent use.”

In December, State Sen. President Wilton Simpson, who hails from Pasco County, and Tampa Mayor Jane Castor told the Tampa Bay Times that the Rays were interested in Pasco County, north of Tampa, as a site for a training complex and spring training facility as part of the team’s plan to build a new stadium in Tampa.

At that time, the team still had hopes of splitting its home games between Tampa and Montreal. But about a month later, Major League Baseball’s executive council rejected that plan, forcing the Rays to start anew in their decades-long quest to leave Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, where their use agreement ends in 2027.

The team reportedly is looking at both Tampa and the Tropicana Field site in St. Petersburg as possible locations for a new stadium, and owner Stu Sternberg and MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred have both expressed their desire that the team remain in the Gulf Coast area.

The youth sports complex in Odessa, Fla., was not specifically linked to the Rays in the state budget proposal, but Pasco County officials had suggested it could also serve as the team’s spring training complex. The team conducts spring training in Port Charlotte, Fla., about 80 miles southeast of St. Petersburg.

“Not unexpected, but it was disappointing that our youth sports complex was vetoed,” Pasco County Commission chairwoman Kathryn Starkey said Thursday.

The Rays did not respond to a request for comment about DeSantis’s veto.

Chelsea Janes contributed to this report.

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