Follow-Up: Miami-Dade Takes From Workers; Gives Millions In ‘Incentives’

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Florida Public Employees

December 29, 2013

By: Elaine De Valle – “Ladra” – Political Cortadito

American Airlines is one of dozens of airlines that got a total of $4 million, combined, in “incentives” since 2006.

Norweigan Cruise Line is not the only private company to get millions of taxpayer dollars in “marketing incentives” from a Miami-Dade government that is allegedly ”tightening its belt.”

In addition to the $3 million commissioners approved (in consent agenda, no less) for the cruise company earlier this month, dozens of airlines have received at least $4.3 million in incentives, including landing fee waivers, since 2006, according to records obtained by Political Cortadito this week.

Mayor Carlos Gimenez

Mayor Carlos Gimenez

This fiscal year’s total for the Miami-Dade Aviation Department’s MIA Air Service Incentive Program (ASIP4) is $900,000, according to the documents provided by Greg Chin, the department’s communications director.

Yes, that is from the same budget in which there was no money for libraries or paramedics or a no-kill shelter. Yes, that is from the same budget that Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos “Not So Golden Boy” Gimenez says is so tight the county cannot afford to give back the promised 5% that employees willingly have contributed to group health (read: healthcare subsidy) since 2009.

Or, to put it another way, as Gimenez threatened to close down libraries and fire dozens of paramedic firefighters, he was giving nearly $1 million more away to private airlines.

And we can expect more of the same next summer as the 2014-2015 budget looms. Especially since NCL’s incentive program calls for another $3.3 million to be awarded each year through 2017.

Really.

To be fair, and as the mayor and his staff love to say repeatedly, these are “different funding sources” that can’t be mixed up.

“You’ve got to be careful not to mix funding from different sources in your coverage of this issue,” Gimenez spokesman Fernando Figueredo chided me in an email response asking about these gifts to corporate giants.

“The Library System as well as the Fire and Rescue department have their own taxing districts separate from the general fund taxing district or the UMSA taxing district. It is illegal to use funds from one taxing district to subsidize operations in a separate taxing district. So the operations of the MD Library System as well as the MD Fire and Rescue department have to be funded strictly by the taxes generated by their independent taxing districts,” Figueredo wrote.

“The Mayor could not, even if he wanted to, transfer funds from the airport or seaport to either one of those organizations,” he added.

Or, to put it another way, we can’t use seaport money to pay for librarians — and the mayor doesn’t want to, anyway. So at the end of the day, to balance the budget, I guess we have to give some of the surplus away?

Well, county folk — or those on the 11th floor, anyway — call it an investment.

NCL got $3 million in “marketing incentives” approved earlier this month and has another $3.3 million coming annually through 2017.

“In addition, the airport (MIA) and seaport (PortMiami) are both ‘proprietary’ organizations within the County that function independently from the rest of the County organization.  They both operate as quasi private businesses and are strictly funded by the revenues they generate,” Figueredo explained. “Just like any private business, in order to generate future growth and an increase in revenues, incentives need to be provided. Both MIA and PortMiami operate in an intensely competitive environment, one in which airlines can easily promote passengers to travel to particular destinations or through specific airports to reach a final destination.

“Since both MIA and PortMiami receive a large portion of their revenues from  landing fees or passengers moving through their facilities, it is important for them to provide incentives to airlines and cruise ships to bring as many passengers through as possible,” he said. “In the case of MIA for example, the incentives are in the form of landing fee waivers for those airlines that bring large volumes of passengers.”

But isn’t the county government’s real business to provide services for its residents? And if the revenue stream is the airport and the seaport, why on Earth would we exclusively use those funds to further vamp up the revenue stream and not shore up other areas of the “business” that are not so lucrative? It seems ludicrous. Libraries are never going to pay for themselves. Neither are firefighters. We should be able to use other funding sources to pay for them.

After all, this is our seaport. Our airport. These assets belong to the people and we, not the Fortune 500 travel companies, should be the ones benefiting from its success.

It is true that what they call the “lock boxing” of revenue streams keeps funds separate. The county in their infinite wisdom has set up an accounting system that would make Rube Goldberg proud. They created entities and then pledged revenue streams to fund these departments, organizations, taxing districts, ad nauseam. The premise was they would protect themselves from “robbing Peter to pay Paul.” It also helps in the bonding out of billions of dollars for special projects because they can show the underwriters that the money will be there in the future to pay back the borrowed funds with dedicated tax and fee structures in place.

Of course, they can clearly take from the General Fund to add to any shortfall in whatever department they like. Or lower the tax rate on one of the separate funds, say, the library tax, so they can use the reserves up and then claim they have lowered taxes, since the average taxpayer only looks at the overall bill.

But when Figueredo, speaking on behalf of Mayor Gimenez, says it is against the law to take money from one account to pay for operations in another, he is not talking about a federal or state law. In most cases, these are county ordinances, which, of course, could be changed if the will were there. But our electeds simply like the things the way they are for many reasons. It gives them the political cover to hide behind the crappy decisions they make, for one.

Another reason is to confuse us. Because, as Ladra pointed out, these assets — the seaport, the airport, the water and sewer system, the American Airlines Arena, the Marlins Stadium — belong to us. The Mayor, the Commission and county department directors are simply trustees of our assets. And temporary ones, at that (with any luck). The fact is, the citizens do not understand the convoluted way the county pays for the upkeep of these assets and the politicians like it that way. That’s why they double talk anyone who asks any questions. (No offense, Fernando).

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