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Front Page » Opinion » Get Real Commissioners Cut Spending Dont Raise Taxes

Get Real Commissioners Cut Spending Dont Raise Taxes

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Written by on June 11, 2009

By Michael Lewis
As Miami-Dade’s property tax base drops 9.2%, county officials are scrambling to deal with $350 million to $400 million less tax income.

Mayor Carlos Alvarez and some commissioners have already said they may raise taxes so they don’t have to cut too much. Commission Chairman Dennis Moss said his priorities are to protect county jobs and services — not let county workers go.

In such a crunch, it sounds too simplistic to say "just cut spending." Unfortunately for our elected leaders, however, cutting happens to be the right answer.

We are sure commissioners have noticed the recession in which this country is mired. We’re also sure their constituents have already let them know of the economic binds they’re in personally.

What the commissioners may not realize is that for most taxpayers, maintaining government programs, staffing levels and payrolls uncut takes a far-distant back seat to maintaining their own families, jobs and businesses.

Keeping up all county programs and payouts and payrolls and salaries is very important to the mayor and commissioners who will make the decision. Eroding county spending erodes their power base.

Well, the private sector has had to cut — and none of us has the option to make someone else pay so that we can keep on spending as much as we did in the heady boom days.

US unemployment last week hit 9.4%, highest in 26 years. Those lost jobs came from someone’s payroll, and many employers had to make cuts to stay in business.

Look at Florida’s unemployment, also soaring at 9.6%. Same in Miami-Dade, 8%, the highest since the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Why should the county be impervious to the cutting that afflicts us all? Government employment should not be a guaranteed lifetime job.

Note this: in the past boom-time decade, while employment in Florida rose 13.9% to 8.35 million, Floridians in government jobs increased 17.4%, to 1.12 million. One of every 7.4 Floridians now works in government, which lives on taxes and fees paid by every other Floridian.

And government workers aren’t just more numerous. Contrary to the image of selfless public servants, they’re also better paid. In two-thirds of all job categories, says the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, government workers are paid above the category’s average.

So we’ve not only pushed up government employment percentages, we’ve done it at better-than-average wages.

Commissioner Katy Sorenson says the county has cut for the past two years and she is concerned about jobs and services this year, so a tax increase may be in order.

In truth, as Miami-Dade’s construction boom sent tax rolls skyrocketing in recent years, government spending also rose. The county’s budget in the past three years rose more than 10%, from $6.8 billion to more than $7.5 billion. Whatever cuts Commissioner Sorenson was referring to, total spending still soared.

In fact, if the county cut that entire $350 million to $400 million tax shortfall out of the budget in the coming year it would be spending about $350 million more than just three years ago.

And the county calls this a revenue crisis!

How many businesses are today spending 5% more than three years ago, are immune to pay cuts or layoffs and can tap someone else’s wallet at will for more?

Commissioners and the mayor, of course, will say they can’t possibly cut that much without harming some of the programs and staffing that has bloated in the boom years. And they’re probably right.

They will also say that every single thing they cut benefits someone or some group in Miami-Dade County. And that’s also probably right.

But what they’ll never tell you is that you and I pay for everything they do, and we just plain don’t want as much of it as the county wants to give us — at least, not in today’s painful economy. We’re more than willing to give up some nice things we don’t directly control in order to have more money in our pockets for vital spending that we control for ourselves.

Face it: Do you trust your mayor and commission to spend your money as frugally as you would yourself? Or as wisely?

And don’t tell us, commissioners, that every single penny the county spends from our taxes is vital to us and to our future.

We gratefully acknowledge county services vital not just to us but to those who do not have the wherewithal to help themselves.

But don’t come to us, commissioners, and paint possible spending loss as the end of police and fire services and parks and senior citizen care, as you always do when spending cuts are hinted at, because plenty of areas can be cut with far less public pain.

And no, we’re not just talking about the commission slush funds we wrote about a year ago at budget time, or waste in general, or $645 million baseball stadiums. We know that some valid and useful services may be slimmed as well.

We’ll take the chance.

Commissioners and Mayor Alvarez, take a close look at your community. The average citizen is hurting. And the people who fund your campaigns have had to lay off employees and reduce salaries. Folks, they aren’t taking such drastic steps so that you can tax them more to keep from making cuts yourselves.

Let’s get real — and get cutting.