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Sharing financial pain in uncertain economic times

 

Recently the Miami-Dade County Commission voted 8 to 3 to eliminate a 5-percent salary reduction that our unions agreed to in 2010. According to the mayor, if it stands, the decision will create a $56 million budget deficit and potentially cause the layoffs of numerous county workers.

I voted against the measure because in my view, although we had a long debate, we had the wrong debate: Our choice shouldn’t have been simply between restoring funds to our hurting union workers or creating a budget deficit that the mayor says he will address by laying off county employees. Instead, the debate should have been about how we can expeditiously eliminate the 5-percent sacrifice made by the unions without having to pink-slip numerous county workers.

I believe that there are several ways to reach that goal, including reducing the union's 5-percent reduction in increments with a definitive end date, aggressively eliminating waste and costly services and protecting our trust funds and reserves in a manner that preserves a sound financial rating, a rating that could be in jeopardy as a result of this vote.

Putting this issue to an up-or-down vote ignored the importance of balancing the interests of our union workers with the needs of citizens that rely on services delivered by county workers. The salary cut the union employees agreed to in 2010 was intended to end this January based on economic projections — predictions that have not come to pass. Given our slow economic recovery, however, I reluctantly voted against an immediate full salary restoration, because doing all restoration immediately will create a significant budget deficit leading to layoffs that can adversely affect county services.

Under our strong-mayor form of government, the responsibility of how to address the $56 million deficit rests with the mayor. If the mayor vetoes the commission's decision as some anticipate, and the veto is not overridden, I would hope that he would carefully consider the multifaceted alternatives to re-balancing the budget. If the commission overturns the veto, we should all work to consider alternatives to an all-or-nothing veto showdown and the layoffs and reduction of services that an override would likely create.

The fact is that sharing financial pain is never popular, particularly when we ask union workers who have already endured financial sacrifice to wait even longer than they intended to have their salary restored. But given the prospect of a $56 million deficit, all stakeholders should carefully consider all options to prevent us from facing what can only be described as a short–sighted decision that shackles a future administration, commission and county budget. The citizens of our county deserve no less.

Sally Heyman, commissioner, Miami-Dade County

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