Miami-Dade opposes state move to cap government revenues
By Risa Polansky
A state move to cap governments' revenues is drawing criticism from Miami-Dade commissioners, who say now is not the time to further strain already tight budgets.
The legislators proposing the cap maintain creating predictability in government spending would be healthy for taxpayers and the economy.
In the end, it would be up to voters. Capping revenues would require a referendum to amend the state constitution.
"If there is a cap, how will local governments address the rising expenses such as gas, security, technology, paper, everyday life?" Commissioner Rebeca Sosa said at a meeting last week. "If revenues are to be capped, then so must expenses — and then, in this market and the way things are, this is incredibly problematic for us."
She proposed the commission urge the Legislature to vote down any legislation that suggests capping local governments' revenues.
The measure passed unanimously.
Commissioners were under the impression a cap would single out local governments, some insisting that if the state wants a cap, it limit its own revenues as well.
But proposals in both the House and the Senate would limit revenues at both the state and local levels.
Commission discussion centered on a proposal by Rep. Anitere Flores of Kendall, which calls for capping revenue and allowing growth annually based on population growth and inflation, plus one percentage point.
Under her proposal, state officials could allow greater state revenue collection through a two-thirds vote in the House and the Senate.
It would be up to the Legislature to provide for the use of excess revenues at the local level.
Some Miami-Dade commissioners said they were insulted the move came from a local representative.
"This is so offensive," Natacha Seijas said at the meeting last week.
Rep. Flores said she has since spoken with some commissioners to clear up the confusion over whether the cap would apply to the state.
She said they responded with a "willingness" to work together from here.
Ms. Flores called a cap "a great planning tool for governments" that would "no longer allow governments, be it state governments or local governments, to rely on spikes that might be unnatural and temporary in their nature," creating greater predictability.
Sen. Mike Haridopolos of Melbourne said the same of his Senate legislation, which, if voters approve, would cap government revenues at those collected in the 2010-2011 fiscal year and allow them to grow annually based on population and inflation.
His measure calls for placing excess revenues in reserve funds, some of which would carry over to later years.
"Our goal is to get predictability of government spending at all levels… so that businesses, families and governments can plan better for the future," Mr. Haridopolos said.
Some local commissioners criticized the timing, pointing to the state of the economy and to recent years of budget reform.
"We've already had layoffs, we've already cut services. This would not help our economy, it would further encourage the spiraling down of our economy," Katy Sorenson said.
Mr. Haridopolos disagreed.
A cap would force governments to do what "every family and business is doing, which is to prioritize," he said.
Ms. Flores agreed.
"Governments' budgets shouldn't increase any more than Floridians' budgets."
A cap measure in Colorado caused so much budget disarray that residents voted to suspend it, the county legislation notes.
But Sen. Haridopolos said Colorado's Taxpayer Bill of Rights initiative, known as TABOR, lacks critical elements of his proposed measure.
Should residents agree to amend the state constitution to include the revenue cap as laid out in his proposed resolution, voters would also have the power to allow more spending down the line.
The Colorado measure mandated a certain amount of spending on education, which ended up pitting other services against each other for the remaining funding, Sen. Haridopolos said — his proposal wouldn't.
The legislators expect the resolutions to move through the House and Senate this year and appear on the ballot next November. Passage of the constitutional change would require a super majority, or 60% approval, from voters.