The Big Lie — tax savings not as reported by mayor

As he explained at the proposed budget presentation last week, Mayor Carlos Gimenez stepped up his level of confusion beyond his usual cryptic pronouncements to what can only be termed affirmative, deliberate deception — in other words, The Big Lie.

Our mayor said, as part of his presentation on the budget, that during his term, he had “saved the average taxpayer $1,700 in taxes.”

My staff and I scrambled to figure out where he got that number.

The reader should keep in mind the following tax milestones during Gimenez’s term (which coincides with my tenure, since we both came into office in 2011, in special elections after the recall).

1. In the years immediately after the Great Recession of 2008, the county’s taxable base fell precipitously. In order to offset that, the commission and mayor increased the millage rate so as to maintain services. The rate countywide rate stood at 5.4275 in the FY 2010-11 budget year.

2. Because of the quick economic recovery, by FY 2011-12, the mayor and commission were able to reduce the operating millage rate down to 4.8050 and by FY 2014 to 4.6669. (Even then, the overall tax rate stayed the same, since we were required to increase the debt-service millage rate due to obligations resulting from the 2004 General Obligation Debt called “Building Better Communities.”)

3. Since 2014, we have kept the operating millage rate “flat,” while the taxable base of the county has increased between 6 percent and 8 percent every year.

In Gimenez’s (and my) tenure, with a flat tax rate, the total tax revenues have thus increased an average of $100 million each year. Since we are entering our ninth year in office, and since the percentage increase has a compounding effect, we will receive a cumulative total of over $500 million in new property taxes during his (and my) tenure, which end in 2020.

So it is clear that the mayor has not “saved” the average taxpayer $1,700 during his tenure. On the contrary, he has increased your tax burden by a substantial amount. To be precise, from 2012 to the present, when the operating millage rate has remained “flat,” the average taxpayer has increased his tax burden by $336.62.

Now, let’s talk about what should have happened — and what will happen in the future.
With over a half billion dollars in new money since 2012, the county should have either reduced taxes substantially or increased services substantially, or both.

In my 2011 Task Force Report to chair Joe Martinez, I proposed cost-cutting measures of approximately $400 million. In successive reports I proposed similar amounts of savings — mainly by reducing the number of bureaucrats (about 4,000 at the time) and their salaries (about $100,000 average at the time). I proposed that the savings could be split evenly between tax reductions and a fleet of neighborhood circulators that would employ somewhere between 1,500 and 2,000 mini-bus drivers.

In subsequent years, I have proposed using 1 percent of our operating budget (roughly $50 million) each year for affordable housing.

The above measures met with deaf ears when I spoke to the mayor. Instead, he tried to convince the unions that each year there was a looming operating deficit, sometimes in the neighborhood of $200 million. (This, of course, was calculated on the assumption that there would be no cost-cutting, that we would continue to have a fleet of 7,000 vehicles, 4,500 properties, 18 administration buildings, over 1,000 job titles, 30 departments and agencies and 4,283 managers for an enterprise that has no innovation, no competition, a fixed demand and can fix the prices of its services.)

(These theoretical “deficits” were used by Mayor Gimenez to force the unions to pay 5 percent of their salaries, which had been flat for more than three years, to pay healthcare insurance, which had been part of their benefit package since time immemorial. I fought this travesty and won a big battle, when a super-majority of the commission joined me in overcoming the mayor’s veto in labor negotiations where the commission restored the healthcare benefits.)

The good news is that all of this nonsense — all of this voodoo accounting — ends in just one year. The citizens of Miami-Dade will elect a new mayor and seven new commissioners on Aug. 20, 2020.

Everyone should keep in mind that the Big Lie of Gimenez will hang like an albatross on anyone who has defended his mismanagement all these years.

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