Policy and paychecks

Miami-Dade Commissioner Jean Monastime was sworn in as the board’s new chairman in January as his wife, Kettia, looks on.
Miami-Dade Commissioner Jean Monastime was sworn in as the board’s new chairman in January as his wife, Kettia, looks on. MIAMI HERALD

Jean Monestime, the new chairman of the Miami-Dade Commission, already has plans to leave his imprint. He has made a savvy move to incorporate discussions of income inequality into the policy decisions that affect, for good or for ill, residents’ quality of life.

The topic has captured the nation, from the president to presidential aspirants; from think tanks to, of course, Americans who are living it every day — especially those who have come up with the short end of the financial stick: the unemployed who desperately want jobs that pay a living wage; the underemployed who are working two or more jobs so that their paychecks add up to a living wage — barely; workers who still can’t afford health insurance, the Affordable Care Act aside.

Commissioner Monestime plans to take the conversation from ineffective abstract rants about the “haves vs. the have-nots” to one in which commissioners, it is hoped, will take into account the impact of their policy decisions on poorer, struggling residents countywide before casting a vote. This is the only responsible approach in balancing competing, and sometimes brawling, interests.

The issue of income inequality hits close to home for Mr. Monestime. He represents one of the poorest commission districts, District 2, which ropes in sections of Little Haiti, Liberty City, North Miami, North Miami Beach and Biscayne Gardens.

He understands that the nuts and bolts of combating income inequality have more to do with providing residents, not with temporary fixes, but with a firmer foundation on which to stand. Mr. Monestime told the Editorial Board that, during his first term on the commission, he saw that a main and well-traveled corridor — Northwest Seventh Avenue — is not living up to its full commercial potential because it lacked sewers. The deficiency stymied the possibility of locating restaurants, hotels and other high-volume businesses there. With the help of county administration, he sussed out $126 million in revenue from general obligation bonds, enough to help jump-start sewer construction not just along Seventh Avenue in his district, but also along major arteries in nine other commission districts.

His vision? New infrastructure will spur new businesses leading to more jobs for local residents. It’s a simple equation, but with a huge ripple effect. He also says that he will fight to maintain enterprise zones, an effective incentive to spur economic development that is needlessly under attack in the Legislature. It’s imperative that other commissioners take up this battle.

The commission chair has enlisted colleagues Barbara Jordan, a county administrator before she joined the commission, and Daniella Levine Cava, the newest member on the dais. Both of them will join Mr. Monestime on his newly created Chairman’s Council for Prosperity Initiatives. All three bring real-world experience in working with some of the community’s more-vulnerable residents. They will hear from private-sector business people, academics and others to help craft policy proposals.

Poverty comes at a high cost, not just for low-income families, but for the rest of taxpayers who have to fund emergency-room care because they don’t have a primary-care doctor or fight crime that might seem an attractive alternative if a young person can’t find employment. Mr. Monestime‘s quest is right on and merits broad support. Putting people to work helps us all.