County low on time to maximize use of proposed bond issue, economist says
By Victor Cruz
and Jonathon Gutierrez
While Miami-Dade County commissioners decided against a Nov. 13 referendum on a $1.4 billion bond issue, they did ask the county manager to outline steps needed to secure voter approval in six months, if they decide to put it on the ballot.
A referendum at that time would come none to soon, according to economist Tony Villamil, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers for Gov. Jeb Bush and president of Washington Economics Group.
"We have a window of six months and we better do it, because you don't know if the economy picks up later" and the favorable interest rates disappear even as "the needs are still there," Mr. Villamil said.
The bond idea was floated this month by Mayor Alex Penelas as a way to jumpstart the economy as it pays for the $5.4 million in capital improvements that County Manager Steve Shiver said the community needs.
Mr. Villamil last week gave a presentation to county commissioners to simulate the impact of a bond issue. According to his forecast, 27,000 jobs would be created if just $1.2 billion "were put on the street over a three-year period."
Within six months, or the time it would take for the first projects to begin, he said, a wave of construction and related jobs would develop. He predicts $2.2 billion in added economic output and $930 million in extra labor income.
Unemployment in Miami-Dade rose 34% in September from the same month of 2000, according to Beacon Council figures.
The numbers show that 7,139 residents filed unemployment claims last month, up from 5,325 during the same period in 2000. And in the final week of September, 2,788 filed claims, up 81% from the 1,532 who filed the previous week.
According to Mr. Villamil's calculations, a "multiplier effect" would mean 21% of the new positions would be in professional management, including architecture, engineering, and contracting; 10% in retail sales; 28% in restaurants and related service industries, and 39%, the bulk of the new jobs, in labor construction jobs.
"What is lost in the discussion is that we need to do this because Miami is becoming a high-cost production center due to transportation bottlenecks and transit problems," problems that could be remedied with rapid capital improvements, Mr. Villamil said.
If a referendum is passed in six months, work from a $200 million bond issue could begin as soon as one year from now, Mr. Shiver said.
The proposed bond package is an extension of the county's Decade of Progress issue, a set of eight 30-year bonds designed to fund a number of construction and renovation projects. The bonds, approved in 1972, totaled $550 million for capital improvement bonds. When combined with state and federal matching funds, the package grew to exceed $2 billion.
The bonds eventually paid for countywide sewer and road construction projects and an addition to Jackson Memorial Health Center. It allowed the county to create Tropical Park and to establish the Metrorail. The financing also provided $34.7 million for construction of libraries and allowed the county to move the zoo from Key Biscayne to its current, larger facility.
The proposal to extend those bonds, just now being paid off, was first made last year by former county manager Merrett Stierheim. In January, the county commission voted 6-1 to hold a referendum on his previous $1.5 billion bond project, though no date was set.
Apart from the bond issue, the county is pushing to accelerate capital projects, as a newly created Economic Generation and Recovery Task Force committee meets today (10/18) to gauge what projects can be developed.
The group, headed by co-chairs Allen Harper and Walter Revell, will meet with representatives from the Transit Department, Water and Sewer Department, Department of Public Works, the airport and seaport, the South Florida Regulatory Water Management District and the Miami Dade Expressway Authority.
Don Slesnick, mayor of Coral Gables, and Neisen Kasdin, mayor of Miami Beach, are to attend, as well as Carlos Gimenez, city manager of Miami, and Jorge M. Gonzalez, city manager of Miami Beach.
"We're just trying to get everybody in one room and say, here's what you have on the schedule and how can we get them moved forward and here's what we don't have on the schedule, how can we get it on the schedule," Mr. Harper said.
During a recent trip to Washington, Miami-Dade County Mayor Alex Penelas met with several Florida congressmen, according to spokesman David Perez, in an effort to promote Miami. While there, Mr. Penelas told them that he thought capital projects should be speeded up.
The mayor also told congressmen that the passenger facility charge, a tax levied on airline passengers through ticket prices, should be used to partially fund tougher security measures at Miami International Airport. Mr. Penelas met with representatives Mark Foley, Alcee Hastings, Lincoln Diaz-Balart, E. Clay Shaw, Carrie Meek, Robert Wexler, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Peter Deutsch along with senators Bill Nelson and Bob Graham.