Dedicated tax to fund Dade cultural groups illegal
By Zachary S. Fagenson
A dedicated tax to fund cultural organizations in Miami-Dade County is one of that community's long-held dreams.
Unfortunately, it's not legal today, and Commissioner Rebecca Sosa, who sponsored a county commission measure that formed a taskforce on the county's arts groups, won't even consider lobbying legislators to change it.
"At this moment, I won't accept any increase," Ms. Sosa said Tuesday. "Now is the time for government to help the people carry their burden, not add to it."
She didn't rule out examining the issue in the future, but "not today and not tomorrow."
According to Dave Ansley, a process manager of the refunds and distribution process for the state's revenue department, legislation to permit a dedicated tax to support cultural organizations, such as the half-penny tax that currently supports the county's transportation system, isn't on the books.
The state "would have to create a provision allowing for a new sales tax and specifically for that purpose if that's what they want," he pointed out. "Or they could expand the uses for the taxes that Dade County currently has [for] indigent health care and infrastructure."
When and if the state were to approve such a change to statute, the county would follow the normal process of notifying the public and calling for a public vote. If passed, the state's revenue department would collect the tax and pass it on to the county.
Talk of a special tax was raised last week by Miami Science Museum President and CEO Gillian Thomas after a town hall meeting between cultural organizations and the county's Cultural Affairs Council. The organizations have voiced strong opposition to county Mayor Carlos Alvarez's proposed budget, which would cut $11 million in grant money from the cultural affairs department.
The cut, according to the department, would be a death sentence for more than 400 cultural groups that have received support in the past.
Meanwhile, Ms. Thomas and Related Group Vice Chairman and Cultural Affairs Council Chair Adolfo Henriques said they hope some sort of permanent funding stream for the arts will be established in the future.
"That's just a dream everyone involved with the arts and culture has, and there's nothing in the works to make that happen today," Mr. Henriques said. "I'm sure it's one of the things the taskforce Commissioner Sosa has put together will discuss."
While cultural groups keep the tax in the back of their minds as they lobby the county commission to preserve a portion, if not all, of their funding, the final word on a special tax would fall onto the voters.
Dario Moreno, director of Florida International University's Metropolitan Center who closely monitors voter sentiment here, argued that "this is a pro-tax community despite its reputation."
He pointed to the passage of a tax for the Children's Trust as well as the half-penny sales tax to fund transportation projects as evidence.
Whether the county's cultural groups can win permanent funding for themselves, however, depends on the public's trust of county officials and its support of the benefiting groups.
"The question is, what kind of projects have citizen support?" Mr. Moreno asked rhetorically. "It will not be impossible for cultural groups to get their taxes, but it's going to depend, given this environment, on how it's packaged, what's included, voter confidence in the county and voter confidence that the money will be spent as the proponents say it will be spent."