In My Opinion

Fred Grimm: Remember lawmakers’ MDC vote at the polls

 

fgrimm@MiamiHerald.com

You can’t vote.

You can’t vote on a half-cent sales tax that would restore the diminished budget of a vital local institution fallen into disrepair.

José Oliva, Frank Artiles, Michael Bileca and Carlos Trujillo won’t allow it.

Those are shocking names to see attached to a fracas over the proposed Miami Dade College surtax. The four state reps are not part of some hostile upstate contingent in the state Legislature who regard South Floridians as an unholy jumble of immigrants, gays, Yankees and Justin Bieber wannabes. These are local boys, our own damn legislators, who’ve decided to preempt their constituents.

The five-year surtax only became an issue, mind you, because our legislators have pummeled the state college system budget in general and Miami Dade College’s in particular. MDC’s budget has been cut by 14 percent since 2007, even as the recession has driven up enrollment with thousands of unemployed workers in need of new skills.

With 175,000 students, the largest enrollment of any U.S. college, MDC needs $1.2 billion to add new classrooms, laboratories and replace antiquated technology, along with $350 million to repair existing buildings.

Enrollment goes up. State funding goes down. Money needs grow ever more acute. Yet, since 2009, the Legislature has bottled up a bill that would have allowed Miami-Dade residents to vote on a proposed half-cent sales tax to replenish the college budget. Once again, it appears that the bill is going to die in the 2014 session, without a floor vote, thanks to the county’s own obdurate legislators.

This ought to be at least as outrageous as the decision to keep voters from having a voice in the 2009, half-billion dollar outlay of taxpayer money to build the Marlins’ baseball palace. Voters were so angered by the decision not to allow a stadium referendum that when they finally got to the polls, they voted to recall County Mayor Carlos Alvarez and County Commissioner Natacha Seijas.

Miami-Dade citizens clearly want a say in the funding of their major institutions. If they had had the chance, voters wouldn’t have approved funds for the baseball stadium. No one (outside the luxury sky boxes where select pols enjoy the games) believed the Marlins’ spiel about a new stadium generating jobs or driving economic growth.

But most of us (with the possible exception of Oliva, Artiles, Bileca and Trujillo) believe that MDC is one of the more important economic engines in South Florida. An actual job maker. Last year, a study by Economic Modeling Specialists International, an Idaho firm that studies labor market data, calculated that MDC adds about $3.3 billion to the local economy annually. And that the local economy enjoys a $10 return for every dollar invested in the school.

Which sounds like a hell of a better investment than a half-empty baseball stadium. But you couldn’t vote against the Marlins deal. And you can’t vote for the MDC surtax.

MDC President Eduardo Padrón, as the bill’s prospects once again faded in the Florida House of Representatives, went a little apoplectic last week. He muttered about Oliva and his gang indulging in a lowdown political power play. At the school’s expense. (There was also speculation around town that the four pols were doing what they could to tamp down competition for their good buddy and benefactor, the very politically connected owner of the for-profit Dade Medical College.)

Legislators were mightily offended by Padrón’s outburst. Rep. Eddy Gonzalez, chairman of the Miami-Dade legislative delegation, fired off a letter complaining about the college president’s “vitriol” and “uncivilized discourse.” Which is a fairly amazing complaint, coming from politicians who’ve been through (and perhaps orchestrated) the slime and underhanded innuendo of a Miami-Dade election. Who knew that our local politicians suffered such delicate sensitivities?

Padrón apologized. That wasn’t enough for Gonzalez, who wanted the college president to grovel at the feet of the offended legislators. He warned that the bill, which was all but dead before Padrón went off on Oliva and company, is now all but dead.

So you can’t vote. They won’t let you.

You can, however, remember the one Broward and 10 Miami-Dade legislators who signed Gonzalez’s letter. Who found Padrón’s publicly expressed exasperation much more offensive than the damage their political games are causing Miami Dade College.

Remember Eddy Gonzalez, Jose F. Diaz, Manny Díaz Jr., Carlos Trujillo, José Oliva, Erik Fresen, Michael Bileca, Frank Artiles, Jeanette Núñez, Holly Raschein, Joe Gibbons.

You can’t vote for a surcharge. You can, however, vote these disingenuous characters right out of office.

Read more Fred Grimm stories from the Miami Herald

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