Nearing the midway point of his second term in office, Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado gathered the media and friends at City Hall on Wednesday to crow about his city. And while he had a lot to say, he hoped that the coverage of the event would be buried in the newspaper and aired at the tail-end of TV newscasts.
Because the former journalist knows that good news makes for dull headlines. And he admitted that his 2015 state of the city speech was so positive, it was downright “boring.”
“This speech doesn’t have a good sound bite, a sexy sound bite, or any drama. Because there is no drama here at City Hall these days,” the mayor said to applause.
Nevermind that Regalado’s daughter is suing his city to invalidate a ballot item he promoted for the $430 million SkyRise observation tower. Or that the Florida Supreme Court will begin to hear a lawsuit in April filed by the city’s unions seeking to reinstate a bounty of wages and benefits slashed during the recent recession.
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By Miami’s standards, those issues wouldn’t make the cut in a telenovela pilot. Besides, Wednesday was Regalado’s chance to pound his chest after enduring years of turmoil.
When Regalado came into office in late 2009, Miami was reeling. Its tax base had plummeted, leaving the city to scramble for money while fending off bills coming due from substantial raises and benefits that commissioners — including Regalado — afforded public employee unions during fatter times.
Miami was also handling an inquiry by the Securities and Exchange Commission into whether the city improperly balanced the budget with restricted funds, and then another about whether the municipality misled investors purchasing Marlins Stadium bonds.
But eventually, thanks to a rebounding real estate market and what the city says was conservative bookkeeping, Miami found its footing and began to emerge from its tailspin. Now, the city has boosted its reserves by 800 percent, past $100 million. And the market is finally responding, with two credit agencies boosting the city’s fiscal outlook.
“Bond ratings are a tangible marker of our city’s financial outlook,” Regalado said.
Regalado noted on Wednesday that the city also launched a regional EB-5 visa center to court foreign investors, lowered the overall property-tax rate four years straight, and addressed a slew of minor issues like code compliance complaints and broken sidewalks.
“Long gone are the front page headlines of bankruptcy and fiscal instability,” he said.
The city still has some lingering issues. Even in significantly improving Miami’s financial outlook, credit agencies noted the city’s liabilities have kept them from being more bullish on Miami. Both Fitch and Standard & Poor’s mentioned issues with the SEC and the pending lawsuits in which the city’s police and fire unions are seeking to have the city reinstate the wages and benefits that were unilaterally slashed during the recession.
“Miami is in several court cases that warrant close attention,” Fitch wrote in December when announcing an increase to several city bond ratings. “The city estimates the cost of reinstating the prior contract terms at roughly $150 million, a sum that would be difficult to absorb from operating resources or reserves without impacting overall creditworthiness.”
But the city has so far won every round in the case. And while Regalado downplayed the City Hall drama, he couldn’t help but embrace a little controversy.
He ended by vowing to restore the Miami Marine Stadium, despite the implosion this fall of a plan by a non-profit that Regalado championed. The former newsman couldn’t help but acknowledge that, perhaps, Miami might see some turmoil after all.
“Our great city is moving forward,” he said. “And while I can’t promise it will be without controversy, it’s fine with me because a life without controversy is boring — like this speech.”