Bid To Give Commissioners Taxbenefit Slush Funds Alarming
Written by Michael Lewis on February 18, 2010
By Michael Lewis
Loud alarms should be ringing at county hall over a bid to set up district trust funds so each Miami-Dade commissioner could stash unlimited business handouts to then spend entirely at will.
It’s shocking that any commissioner would ask businesses to pay into a personal slush fund and give them tax benefits in return.
It’s even more shocking that sponsor José "Pepe" Diaz doesn’t recognize the inherent evils and that Commissioners Audrey Edmonson and Joe Martinez want to move the noxious plan forward next month.
Mr. Diaz says firms are dying to hand money to commissioners to spend as they like and that the companies deserve tax breaks for the privilege: "We’ve got to start thinking of our local businesses."
He doesn’t see the yawning pitfall in legalizing personal catchall funds: Commissioners could take "donations" in return for votes and then legally spend the payoffs to curry voters’ favor or reward their backers.
The legislation, after all, would allow trust fund spending for any undefined "public purpose projects." And it wouldn’t limit slush fund pay-ins by size, donor or purpose.
What greater recipe for disaster than legalizing a way for commissioners to be openly bribed and rewarding those who give the bribes with a tax break?
Can you imagine a worse peril than giving each commissioner the legal right to spend any amount unfettered?
That’s not to say that Mr. Diaz or Mr. Martinez or Ms. Edmonson has any evil intent in mind. Their motives may be as pure as their visions are cloudy.
Perhaps they really believe no commissioner would seek a "donation" in return for a favor such as a vote on zoning or a contract when the payoff would be perfectly legal — in fact, labeled desirable in the proposed law.
And perhaps they really believe no commissioner, handed the right to ladle out county cash at will with bid and purchasing rules waived, would dream of spending to curry favor or reward backers or otherwise violate their public trust.
Maybe they even believe that having 13 commissioners spending county money at will for anything their hearts desire is what they were elected to do — because that’s how some behave.
But if seven of the 13 commissioners are that naive, no alarm bell is going to be loud enough to save this county. Doesn’t county hall get it?