Miami Herald | EDITORIAL

Expedient decision, hard choices

 

OUR OPINION: Miami-Dade Commission’s veto override misguided

HeraldEd@MiamiHerald.com

Choices have consequences. The Miami-Dade County Commission chose to override — again — Mayor Carlos Gimenez’s veto of a plan to restore 5 percent of some county employees’ base pay.

The consequences didn’t look pretty when they overrode the mayor’s veto in September, and they don’t look any better now.

The mayor unexpectedly came out on the losing end of a long-running tussle with the commission over the best way to generate revenue in a county that is still clawing its way back to economic stability after taking a hit during the recession.

At issue was the 5-percent contribution that, mostly, sanitation and aviation employees — and those in the Jackson Health System — have made for the past four years toward group healthcare costs. The labor unions and their members said, “Enough.” The commission, ever politically sensitive, especially during this, an election year, sided with them. Basically, a commission majority voted to blow the budget.

Now things stand to get ugly.

As a result of the commission’s misguided vote on Tuesday, the county’s economic future has taken the proverbial two steps back. The county now has a $56-million hole to fill in its $4.4-billion budget. Service cuts and layoffs could be the first, rather than the last, resort — though the mayor’s office says that top-to-bottom administrative belt-tightening will also come into play.

Given the financial challenges that the county already faces, there are plenty of places from which the money simply can’t come. For instance, even though property values are improving, progress still is sluggish. On top of that, so many residents have successfully challenged their property-tax bills before the Value Adjustment Board, that the county took at least a $20 million hit, according to the mayor’s office. Libraries are a $21-million problem.

The unions say, take the money needed from the county’s self-insurance fund. That’s a nonstarter. By the end of the fiscal year, it is estimated that the fund would be left with a $10-million hole, bringing it below the state of Florida’s rules that say there should be enough money in the fund to pay 60 days’ worth of claims, the so-called “safe harbor” rule.

And the mayor seems committed to not raiding the reserves. He understands that it’s crucial that these remain untouched. The mayor’s office estimated there will be about $43 million in the reserve fund at the end of the fiscal year, only about half of what it should have. Moody’s already has downgraded the county’s credit outlook from “stable” to “negative,” the reserves being in worrisome shape. And though the county’s credit rating has not been downgraded, the commission’s vote likely will cause the rating agencies to look a little closer.

The override also splashes over into Jackson Health System, which now must dig up $18 million to replace the 5-percent concession.

And to compound the shame of it all, there was a compromise on the table. There had been a tentative agreement with Jackson’s two unions to phase out the 5-percent healthcare contribution. Jackson would return 3 percent to the workers retroactive to January and return the remaining 2 percent at the end of the fiscal year in September.

The commission’s override swept it off the table.

A commission majority made the easy choice and capitulated. Now their decision has forced the hard choices to be made, for which they won’t be able to shirk responsibility.

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