Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez, the man who seemed prescient when he opposed an unpopular property-tax rate hike that hastened his predecessor’s ouster, didn’t see the political backlash coming when he proposed a tax increase of his own.
So intense was the outcry against Gimenez’s plan this month that he began backtracking just a day after unveiling his 930-page budget, surprising even top county administrators with his snap decision to reduce the hike.
Five days later, the mayor reversed course completely. He abandoned the rate increase altogether, calling it a “misstep,” and framed his new position as a sign that he listens to the people.
“People say I’m a flip-flopper,” Gimenez told the Miami Herald in an interview. “The thing is, hey, if you have to own up to it, the sooner, the better.”
The mayor justified his initial rate hike by saying reflected the cost of providing public services in Florida’s largest county. “I’m a pretty good administrator,” he said repeatedly, “but I’m not a magician.”
When he realized he didn’t have the political support to push the increase through, he cut his losses and acknowledged his miscalculation.
But his detractors — and suddenly there are many more of them — paint a much dimmer picture of Gimenez’s striking evolution on the tax rate, which will now remain flat and could force up to 400 employee layoffs, 22 library closures and the elimination of six fire and rescue trucks.
At best, they say, Gimenez, despite frequently conducting opinion polls to gauge the popularity of his policies, misread county commissioners’ will and lost touch with public anti-tax sentiment a mere two years after his election following the tumultuous recall of Carlos Alvarez.
They note that the floated tax-rate hike followed the short-lived — and ultimately unsuccessful — plan that Gimenez, an opponent of Alvarez’s public financing for the Miami Marlins’ ballpark, orchestrated to use public dollars to fund part of a renovation to the Miami Dolphins’ football stadium.
At worst, critics contend Gimenez shirked from defending his principles, wavering for political expediency as soon as he realized he didn’t have the votes on the commission dais and listeners of influential Spanish-language radio began turning against him.
“His behavior is erratic. It’s confusing, and it’s a disservice to this community,” labor union leader Fred Frost of the Miami Economic Sustainability Alliance told commissioners at the July 16 meeting where they adopted the flat tax rate.
“We need to have calm, stable and effective leadership. We cannot be governed by a bumper sticker.”
Some commissioners, however, praised the mayor for his swift reversal.
“I know it takes courage sometimes to rethink one’s position,” Commissioner Juan C. Zapata said. “It will serve this community well.”
Gimenez, a former Miami fire chief and city manager, has long considered himself more of an administrator than a politician. That posture served him well as a Miami-Dade commissioner seeking to become the strong mayor running one of the nation’s largest municipal governments.
But perhaps bolstered by his reelection to a full, four-year term last year, Gimenez appeared to lack political chops in his handling of the proposed tax-rate hike.