In My Opinion

Fred Grimm: Sosa brainstorm: government a la carte

Think of it as government à la carte.

Miami-Dade residents can now pick and choose among favorite government services they’d like to subsidize.

This (I’m leaving it up to individual taxpayers whether to insert the word “brilliant” here or perhaps an adjective of their own choosing) program provides the perfect outlet for Miami-Dade residents feeling lowdown and chintzy about the paltry $6.3 billion they’re contributing toward the 2013-14 fiscal year budget.

Commission Chairman Rebeca Sosa, who first divined that county taxpayers worried they were getting off too easy, deserves all the credit. And to make sure she gets all credit, her minions fired off a press release: “Early Friday morning at the second and final budget hearing, county commissioners adopted a motion sponsored by Chairwoman Rebeca Sosa to establish a system for residents to make voluntary donations to specific county departments.”

No doubt city and county commissioners all across the country will read about the Sosa initiative and commence slapping themselves in the head, aghast that they hadn’t come up with this simple but revolutionary notion for their own beleaguered community. Detroiters, in particular, must be lamenting that their town had no Sosa of their own to fend off financial ruin.

“The option to provide additional support for services that residents value most will be included in the County’s annual tax notice,” Sosa’s office announced. “Taxpayers who want to give more will have the opportunity to designate the particular area they would like to donate to — including libraries, animal services for the no kill initiative, fire-rescue, police or any service they choose.”

Great news, no doubt, for the parks department staff. Maybe not so great for anonymous toilers stuck in the water and sewer department. I’m guessing that not many living taxpayers will be writing personal checks to fatten up the medical examiner’s budget. Geeks in computer services and accounting will be in sore need of public relations wizardry. But God help the poor sods in the parking violations bureau.

“All we’re doing is creating a vehicle for people who want the option to give more, because we’ve heard people say they don’t mind paying more to support the services they care about the most,” Sosa’s office declared.

Sosa’s fiscal epiphany no doubt struck her like a blow to the head with a blunt instrument during those raucous budget hearings. Remonstrating crowds had filled the commission chambers, incensed that the mayor’s proposed budget had shorted public libraries, fire services, the no-kill animal shelter project.

Cowed by the angry masses, commissioners dug around in the county’s emergency reserves to find money for libraries, and crossed their fingers about getting a federal grant that would help fire services. The Pets’ Trust, supposed to halt mass euthanization of stray dogs and cats at the county animal shelter, didn’t do so well.

Sosa no doubt figured her new donation program would appease mightily offended dog and cat lovers, who, thanks to her plan, could leap right into the budgeting process with their own checkbooks. The effect, however, was just a tad too reminiscent of the marketing strategy employed by National Lampoon, circa 1973. The cover that January depicted a hand with a revolver aimed at the head of an adorable puppy with the caption: “If you don’t buy this magazine, we’ll kill this dog.”

But there’s much more potential in Sosa’s program than the opportunity to extort money from heartbroken animal advocates. The real beneficiaries, of course, will be that special class of taxpayers always eager to circumvent county ethic regulations and donate to a commissioner’s favorite project. Lobbyists will no doubt be attaching personal checks to their annual tax payment earmarked for some very special services. Like, say, supplementing the salaries of chairwoman’s staffers. Or helping out the department in charge of redecorating the commissioners’ offices.

And grateful criminal defense attorneys will be celebrating a dandy new courtroom tactic for fending off corruption charges. “Bribery? No way, your honor.

“No way my client was greasing a county inspector to get a permit approval. He was just making his annual Sosa donation to the building and zoning department. Judge, my client doesn’t mind paying more to support the services he cares about the most.”

Read more Fred Grimm stories from the Miami Herald

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