If Greater Miami were in the league of world-class cities — as our local boosters, including the mayor, like to brag — we would have a reliable and efficient public transportation system that serves all points in the county.
Far from it, we endure historic low reliability, curtailed operating hours and bus routes, and except for one new Metrorail train put into service two weeks ago, thousands ride daily on dirty old trains that operate jam-packed at peak hours.
It’s a disgrace, even more so when Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez campaigned on expanding and improving public transportation but allowed the deterioration on his watch.
To this scenario now comes the mayor seeking to break yet another promise: He wants to collect all of the $324,000 paycheck his recalled predecessor earned at a high-flying time when the county was giving away the house to the Marlins with a $515 million stadium, the Heat with a superbly generous contract, and the strong mayor with unmerited high pay.
We should all be outraged at Gimenez’s request. He would be one of the highest paid mayors in the land, worth more in salary than the mayors of New York, Chicago and Los Angeles.
But, as Gimenez sees it, we should feel only gratitude because he could’ve been collecting this much since day one, but instead gave himself a pay cut.
“Mayor Gimenez has saved Miami-Dade taxpayers millions of dollars since first being elected county mayor in 2011 by reducing his salary by approximately $174,000 and rejecting executive benefits such as a car allowance, security detail and returning those dollars to our general fund to support services such as police, transportation and parks,” the mayor’s spokesman, Michael Hernández, told me. “He led by example during the most challenging fiscal times in county history.”
It’s far from being that heroic. He’s not without perks.
Gimenez used a county police officer for security during a trip to the Paris Air Show on county funds. He has another nice trip to China on the calendar next year.
The mayor used his own pay cut to exercise the moral authority to rein in other county salaries. With this move to up his pay, we’ll have to pay him at that higher level not only through the end of his term in 2020, but for the rest of his life. The pay hike he’s seeking also boosts his pension.
For all county employees, the monthly pension benefit is calculated based on the last five highest income years. Gimenez wants to retire at the $324,000 level. But the older employees nearing retirement during Gimenez’s tenure are stuck with smaller pensions.
Want to know what it’s like?
Here’s what a recent retiree told me: “I am still reeling from the stiff pay cuts and reduction in benefits we went through for three years, beginning in 2012. What we gave up, in totality, amounted to roughly 18 percent compensation per year. This was a combination of a 5 percent pay cut, which the mayor disingenuously called ‘a contribution to health insurance,’ the forfeiture of five paid holidays per year, the elimination of the 1 to 3 percent annual cost of living increase, and the freezing of all scheduled merit increases. The resulting loss of income is here biting me in the butt each month. In three of those five years, my income dropped precipitously so my benefit is smaller than I had anticipated when making my retirement plans.”
Why should we feel sorry for the mayor, who will have another generous taxpayer-funded pension coming from the City of Miami, where he was fire chief and city manager? He’s already guaranteed a Cadillac retirement when the rest of us can barely afford Toyota-style.
Worse than Gimenez asking is the acquiescent County Commission, penny-pinchers when it comes to other budget matters but all ready to give Gimenez his pay next Tuesday. This week they approved it in committee without any of the usual bemoaning of a lack of funds. The county’s Gimenez-made $7.4 billion budget couldn’t find any money to cover all bus routes, but it funded Gimenez’s full compensation. Miracle of all budgeting miracles!
The whopping salary benefits commissioners, too. Not only are they in line for a raise but several have mayoral ambitions.
The other day I heard the mayor’s transportation chief justifying bus route cuts and downplaying the impact at a transit board meeting. She claimed only a few people ride those buses. But for those people, public transportation is all they have to get to and from work, low-paid jobs that don’t afford them the luxury of a car. It’s their main and often sole mode of transportation. Their loss is immense.
So how about putting the mayor’s $174,000 into giving them back their bus routes?
Gimenez told voters he’d do the job for less; don’t authorize more than a cost of living increase.
He doesn’t deserve it.