Miami-Dade County

Miami-Dade has $2 million to fight potential state takeover of MIA and PortMiami

An American Airlines plane gets ready to land at Miami International Airport. Miami-Dade is preparing for a potential fight with state lawmakers over county control of the airport, which is currently run as a Miami-Dade agency.
An American Airlines plane gets ready to land at Miami International Airport. Miami-Dade is preparing for a potential fight with state lawmakers over county control of the airport, which is currently run as a Miami-Dade agency.

A last-minute change to Miami-Dade County’s proposed 2020 budget includes money to fight a potential war over local control of Miami International Airport and Port Miami.

Mayor Carlos Gimenez inserted $2.4 million for “voter education campaigns” into his $8.9 billion budget proposal, which is up for a final vote Thursday night after a public hearing that begins at 5 p.m. at the Stephen P. Clark government center in downtown Miami. The mayor’s budget won preliminary approval earlier this month, though the provision that would raise water fees advanced by a narrow margin.

Gimenez’s proposed 2020 budget would take effect Oct. 1. It includes the higher water rates for some residents, and more money for expanded library hours, seaweed cleanup, parks managers and police hiring. The proposed budget also shows a sharp increase in revenue shortfalls in future years as a term-limited Gimenez prepares to leave office in 2020, with a $30 million deficit projected in 2021. The gap between projected revenues and spending grows to $134 million by 2024.

Gimenez did not provide details on the potential campaigns, except to say they’re to make residents aware of “any potential threats to the governance and provision of services in our community.”

The spending provision follows passages of a state law eliminating the county toll board that Gimenez oversees as chairman, though that legislation is on hold in the midst of a constitutional challenge.

With the fight over the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority dragging on, county leaders are bracing for a more contentious battle over the Miami-Dade airport and seaport. Though no legislation has been announced, the county is already preparing for a bill that would alter MIA and PortMiami’s current role as Miami-Dade agencies under the control of the mayor and 13-seat commission.

“Some of the legislators up in Tallahassee plan to preempt or take away the port and airport from the county,” Commission Chairwoman Audrey Edmonson said last week. “We’ve got to wait and see.”

She gave her remarks at a joint meeting between commissioners and some state lawmakers from Miami-Dade, an event Edmonson opted to hold at PortMiami. At one point, she asked county administrators who work at the port to stand for applause. “I wanted to showcase our beautiful port that we, the county, have put together,” Edmonson said at the Sept. 9 event. “We’re still in the process of building it up, and we’re doing a fine and wonderful job.”

While airports are county agencies in Broward and Miami-Dade, other Florida counties have more complicated arrangements. In Orlando, an independent board made up of a majority of the governor’s appointees controls the airport.

With MIA vendors and tenants a reliable source of campaign contributions, there have been efforts in past years to create an independent board to make the decisions currently left to the county’s elected mayor and commissioners.

The $8.9 billion spending plan proposed by Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez faces its final hearing on Thursday, Sept. 19, 2019, at 5 p.m. at the Stephen Clark Center in downtown Miami. MATIAS J. OCNER

With MIA considered the top economic driver in Miami-Dade, followed by the port, a takeover fight promises to draw far more attention than the squabble over the unpopular toll agency. Meddling with airport or port governance also could backers at odds with American, Carnival and other deep-pocketed companies already heavily invested in the facilities.

Rep. Bryan Avila, R-Miami Springs, joined Sen. Manny Diaz Jr., R-Hialeah Gardens, in sponsoring the anti-MDX legislation during the 2019 legislative session. The push led to Avila and Gimenez engaging in a public back-and-forth on what’s best for Miami-Dade, with each accusing the other of putting politics ahead of residents’ interests.

On Wednesday, Avila called voter-education money an example of “wasteful spending” at County Hall. “There are certainly many challenges in our community that could potentially be remedied with $2.4 million,” he said.

Gimenez revealed the allocation in a memo outlining minor changes to his budget proposal. The money would come from reserves set aside last year to cover revenue shortfalls for a proposed statewide property-tax cut that unexpectedly failed at the ballot in November.

While Gimenez provided no details in the memo, his budget office confirmed “home rule” — the provision in Florida’s Constitution that gives Miami-Dade some independence from the state legislature — is an example of a topic that could be covered in an educational campaign.

Gimenez went into more detail during a July meeting with commissioners on the MDX fight. At that meeting, Gimenez said his 2020 budget would include “educational money” to combat efforts to “assault our home rule.”

“We are putting educational money into the budget for next year so that if things are passed in the state that assault our home rule, we’ll be able to educate the people not only here but in the state of Florida about what it really means,” Gimenez said. “We’ve been silent for far too long.”

.Miami Herald staff writer Rob Wile contributed to this report.