When budget season comes around, it’s common for Miami-Dade county commissioners to have a particular complaint or concern — but Commissioner Xavier Suarez is taking his budget beef to the airwaves.
Wednesday evening, TV commercials began airing with Suarez bashing Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez over transit spending. Miami-Dade’s half-penny transit tax, approved by voters in 2002, isn’t being spent to give voters the transit expansion they were promised, the ads proclaim.
“Mayor Gimenez insists on using nearly $100 million from the half-cent tax to manage the transportation system,” Suarez complains in the Spanish version of the ad, which has a background of trains whizzing by, along with a budget pie chart and a Metrorail map.
“Say no to Gimenez and support me in this effort,” Suarez tells viewers.
In an interview, Suarez said he’s spending “more than $125,000” on the ads, which will run over a five-day span. The money comes from Suarez’s Imagine Miami political action committee.
The ads coincide with Miami-Dade’s first public budget hearing, which will take place at 5:01 p.m. Thursday in commission chambers at the Stephen P. Clark Government Center, 111 NW First St.
Voters have long complained they were deceived by the transit tax — and county leaders acknowledge they over-promised to get the measure passed. Voters approved the 2002 half-cent tax after they were promised a massive Metrorail expansion. But once county leaders got the money, they used much of it to fix budget deficits within the transportation department. The Metrorail expansion never happened.
Suarez, who has suggested he might run for mayor next year, might stir up some public anger with his new commercials. He might also raise his public profile just before launching a mayoral bid.
But the incumbent he would run against, Gimenez, said Suarez’s proposal would wreak havoc with the budget. Gimenez, first elected in 2011, has set a long-term goal of using more and more of the transit tax toward expansion — instead of paying for operations — but Gimenez spokesman Michael Hernandez said Suarez’s goal of flipping that switch immediately isn’t practical. Hernandez warned it would cause police layoffs, park closures, and “drastically reduced” funding for social services.”
“Governing is a serious business,” Hernandez said in a statement. “Demagoguery is not, and sadly that is exactly what Commissioner Suarez’s proposal is.”
About $102 million of transit tax money went to operations this year. Gimenez’s budget staff hopes to reduce that number to $28 million annually within five years.
But in the proposed budget for next year, the amount would go up, not down. Transit would use $130 million in half-penny tax money for operations next year.
Suarez told the Herald he is “dumbfounded” the amount would go up next year. Suarez said the tax money can be moved toward paying for new transit projects — by cutting perks such as employee take-home cars, reducing administrator salaries to no more than $162,000, and laying off some management employees. County government has too many management employees, he said.
“People are desperate for a system of public transportation,” Suarez said. “You’ve got to build it now.”