Balancing the Needs of Taxpayers and County Employees

Balancing the Needs of Taxpayers and County EmployeesWhen County Mayor Gimenez and most County Unions could not agree on a contract, their impasse required a vote of the Miami Dade County Commission. Last month, the Commission voted to eliminate a 5% salary contribution that many employees have paid towards their insurance fund as a result of a Union agreement in 2010. This vote by the Commission followed a day long hearing that included testimony from low wage union employees suffering from the salary reduction, and the Mayor’s statement that eliminating the 5% salary contribution would create a $56 million budget deficit, cause the layoffs of numerous county employees and detrimentally affect County services.

I voted against eliminating the salary contribution because our choice should not have been between immediately eliminating the entire 5% contribution of all impasse union workers or doing nothing for those employees. Instead, the vote should have been about compromise measures that included expeditiously eliminating the 5% salary contribution in increments and requiring administrative changes that offset costs to avoid a budget deficit and the resulting flood of pink-slip dismissals.

Recently, the Mayor vetoed the Commission’s vote to eliminate the 5% contribution. I did not vote to override the veto because I believe that there are several ways to balance the taxpayers’ and employees’ needs. We can do this with transparency and a concerted effort to reduce the 5% contribution in increments, starting with immediately restoring 3% to the lowest wage earners at a cost of approximately $11 million, and a commitment by the Administration to aggressively eliminate documented waste and adopt efficiency measures and best practices.

If the Administration cuts wasteful practices and expenditures, we will be able to readily absorb the initial recurring $11million cost. Additionally, our midyear budget assessment will help us to determine the actual savings we have realized so that we can continue to restore wages as quickly as possible. This will not only be a good faith effort to carry out the previous Administration’s promise to restore union wages, but will create greater accountability and compel this Administration to operate more efficiently and realize recurring savings. This will also protect our trust funds and reserve accounts in a manner that preserves a sound financial rating — a rating that is of great import not just to future county bonds and the recent voter approved Jackson Health bond, but to our county’s future borrowing ability.

Given our slow but positive economic recovery and the mandate of “no additional taxes”, the initial impasse vote should not have pitted the taxpayers needs against employee needs; nor should the next vote. On January 16th, the Mayor and Union Representatives will bring to the Commission what I hope is not only a proposal for a balanced budget, but a balanced proposal for taxpayers and employees. As a Commissioner, I am anxious to see a sound compromise rather than another “all-or nothing” showdown.

Sharing financial pain is never popular, especially when we ask union employees, including those on the lowest pay scale, to wait longer than intended to have their salary restored. Given the prospect of a $56 million deficit, I urge all stakeholders — the Mayor, Union Representatives and my fellow Commissioners — to carefully consider all options so that we can reach a meaningful solution. On January 16th, I will again be voting to balance the needs of our taxpayers and those of our county employees. The citizens of our county and the affected employees (including those who are county taxpayers) deserve no less.

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