Ballot Item On Terrorism Is Really About County Contracts
Written by Michael Lewis on October 25, 2012
By Michael Lewis
A question far down November’s ballot could sour Miami-Dade’s economy while playing into the hands of lobbyists seeking huge contracts at added taxpayer cost.
Yet the question seems to simply ask whether we oppose doing business with terrorists. How could voting yes erode our economy and add government spending?
The answer requires a deeper look.
The item is labeled a "non-binding straw ballot on contracting with companies doing business with state sponsors of terrorism." But the text asks voters about spending local government funds "to procure services or capital improvement programs from companies actively doing business in countries" on the US list of state sponsors of terrorism.
It’s a long leap from doing business with state sponsors of terrorism, as the heading says, to doing business with any company or individual in a country that is branded a sponsor of terrorism. The courts could have a field day deciding which of those two the question means.
Then there’s the issue of what doing business means. Is it having an office in another nation? Or holding a major contract? Or a related company active there? Or would an attorney working to aid a single individual flee dictatorship in Cuba be considered doing business there?
But no need to argue over meaning. The intent is so clear that the question could well have read "Should Miami-Dade County be allowed to contract with a Brazilian-affiliated company to handle major construction projects that clients of local lobbyists are also seeking?"
Or, even more directly, "Should Miami-Dade County dump dealings with Odebrecht Construction Inc. for massive contracts at Miami International Airport and elsewhere?" That would have been direct and not muddied business for thousands of other companies and individuals active abroad.
The ballot question seeks to tilt the playing field for county contracts from efficient companies to those that bid higher or can’t do the job as well but want the business. It’s that simple.
A yes vote would provide cover and comfort to special interests that could tilt bid selections.
That, in turn, would not only drive up costs when the best bidders cannot win but also drive away businesses related to companies that do dealings of any sort where terrorism might ever become an issue. Four nations are on the US list now, but who knows about the future?
In Miami, which has for years sought foreign investment and foreign offices, passage of this vote would chill business. We say we want them here, but passage would prove we don’t.
We got this item in August when county commissioners were vetting dozens of ballot issues, most related to charter amendments. Esteban Bovo proposed it and the others said yes 11-0 (don’t blame Xavier Suarez or Dennis Moss, who were absent).
There was no thoughtful debate; too many ballot items were being approved or culled one after another. With time to think, commissioners might have killed this atrocity.
Miami-Dade is still in the United States, which has a policy that deals with terrorism and has laws about who can legally do business where. Commissioners are asking us to override US policy "to the extent permitted by law," to quote the ballot.
Frankly, the State Department is a better judge of what such policy should be than our commission.
Commissioners put up this specious proposal only after a US district judge in July barred the state from enforcing its own legislation seeking essentially the same roadblock to contracts, a barrier based on terrorism that has nothing to do with the companies in question but has the same aim: tilt the business playing field.
When it didn’t fly at the state level, it roosted in Miami-Dade County.
No judge will knock out our vote, because it already is non-binding. But it still can distort the business climate and let the world know that no matter how open Miami says it is, we want only local guys to get the business and will make sure they do, one way or another.
Remember, this question did not come out of thin air. There’s a reason it’s on the ballot, a reason that has nothing to do with patriotism or terrorism.