Ariz. House approves Cubs spring training bill with ticket surcharge

PHOENIX (AP) — The Arizona House approved a bill Thursday to help finance a new spring-training facility for the Chicago Cubs after the sponsor stripped controversial details from the measure and promised to keep looking for a compromise with opponents.

The House's 35-19 vote sends the measure to the Senate with key provisions still unclear, including the amount of a proposed ticket surcharge.

The Cubs declined an offer to move their training home to Naples, Fla., and have agreed to continue training in Mesa, Ariz., if the city and state could come up with $84 million to build a new stadium and training facility.

Rep. John McComish, R-Phoenix, proposed taxing rental cars and spring training tickets to cover the state's nearly $60 million share.

Lawmakers on Thursday amended the legislation to remove the proposed $1 surcharge on most Phoenix-area auto rentals, a move advocated by car-rental companies which said their customers shouldn't have to pay for a facility that few of them will use.

But lawmakers kept a proposed surcharge on spring training tickets. The 14 other teams that train in Arizona have opposed the ticket charge, saying their fans shouldn't have to pay for a new stadium for the Cubs. Lawmakers left blank the amount of the charge, which will be determined when the bill moves to the Senate.

Some of the cities in which those teams train, along with Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig, also have opposed the proposal.

"I don't intend to push this bill any further in the Senate until we have agreement amongst all of those parties," McComish said.

In an interview after the vote, McComish said he's willing to remove the ticket surcharge but he hasn't seen an alternative proposal that would raise enough money and have political support in the Legislature.

A lobbyist for Selig's office has proposed that Arizona lawmakers create a new type of economic development incentive available in other states called tax increment financing. McComish, who is the No. 2 ranking member of the majority party, said the proposal doesn't have support.

The amendment adopted Thursday also includes a provision to help Pima County pay the remaining debt on two stadiums that will be left vacant when the teams that train in Tucson move to the Phoenix area.

McComish said he wants the legislation to benefit all teams that train in Arizona, not just the Cubs. Advocates for the Milwaukee Brewers and Oakland A's say those teams should be first in line for state-funded stadium improvements because their leases expire before the Cubs' lease.

Rep. Martha Garcia, a Phoenix Democrat whose district includes the Brewers' stadium, said the ticket surcharge could make it too expensive for her constituents to go to a game.

"This should never have come to the Legislature, and I stand in strong opposition to this bill," she said.

Cities including Surprise and Peoria have said the proposed ticket surcharge could force them to pay penalties built into their contracts with teams that train there. McComish said lawyers have told him the bill is structured to avoid triggering contractual penalties.

The Cubs can back out of their agreement with Mesa if the state doesn't enact legislation by July 12 or if Mesa voters in November reject the proposal for financing the city's share of the facility.

The Cubs have trained in Mesa, Ariz., for nearly 60 years and have the highest attendance of the 15 teams that train in Arizona. Cubs supporters say the Chicago franchise benefits all teams that train in Arizona because the Cubs increase attendance when it play on the road.

The team's lease on its aging stadium is nearing expiration, and officials in Naples, Fla., have tried to woo the Cubs from Mesa. The Cubs consistently draw loyal fans from Chicago and around the country, even if they're struggling on the field.

Arizona cities in recent years have lured teams from Florida by promising to build new stadiums and expansive practice facilities.

But the agency that has helped fund some of those new stadiums is now running out of money.

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