The four leading candidates for Miami-Dade mayor on Friday pledged not to raise property taxes as the county heads further into budget and economic turmoil with sales taxes plunging and a real estate market threatened by the coronavirus crisis.
Esteban “Steve” Bovo Jr., a county commissioner running as the “conservative county mayoral candidate,” had made flat taxes a central part of his campaign. On Friday, three rivals joined him in making the same pledge, raising their hands when a moderator asked if they also would take tax increases off the table as Miami-Dade faces its most severe economic challenge since the collapse of the housing market in 2008.
“Oh, absolutely,” Commissioner Xavier Suarez said during the “Driving Dade County’s Future” forum organized by the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce and aired on WLRN. “Am I prepared to make spending cuts? Of course I am.”
Alex Penelas, a former county mayor running for his old post, and Daniella Levine Cava, the third commissioner in the race, also ruled out a tax increase. Each candidate later confirmed they were ruling out an increase in the tax rates charged on property value.
The four candidates are running to succeed a term-limited Carlos Gimenez, who took office in 2011 during a budget squeeze brought on by the housing crash. He won a special election to replace Carlos Alvarez, the last mayor who got a significant tax-rate increase passed. That was in 2010, and voters recalled Alvarez a year later.
Gimenez’s 2021 budget proposal, released last month, does not impose staffing cuts or shore up reserves. The $9 billion spending plan also projects revenue shortfalls to $103 million by 2023, as the next mayor nears the final years of his or her first term.
Penelas said the nearly $1 billion in federal COVID relief Miami-Dade has received from Washington should provide enough cushion to let the county endure the economic downturn.
“With $941 million in federal aid, I think there’s going to be ample opportunities to get us through the budget cycle,” Penelas said during the afternoon event, which was also sponsored by the Miami Herald. The Chamber limited invitations to candidates that have raised at least $100,000 for their campaigns, and first-time candidates Monique Nicole Barley and Ludmilla Domond did not meet that threshold.
Save this clip. On @WLRN forum with @HudsonsView and @doug_hanks...@SteveBovo @votedaniella @XavierLSuarez1
all pledged to NOT raise property taxes as Mayor to deal with #COVID19. #FlaPol #MiamiDade pic.twitter.com/A1GZQUtPDu
— Phil Prazan (@PhilPrazan) August 7, 2020
When Gimenez rolled back the Alvarez rate increases in 2011, property-tax revenues plunged even further. He made up the $400 million shortfall, in part, by winning pay concessions from unions.
Bovo said Friday he’s ready to cut the budget if revenues fall short.
“Throughout this pandemic, government hasn’t suffered. Employees continue to get paid,” he said. “The residents of Miami-Dade County are the ones that have felt the hit ... Our government budget over the next several years will have to reflect what they can afford to pay.”
If the candidates agree on not increasing property-tax rates, there’s disagreement on whether to tap property taxes for a new set of voter-approved infrastructure projects.
Penelas said this week he’d ask voters to approve a bond program to fight the impacts of climate change in Miami-Dade — an effort he said would cost “multiples” of billions of dollars.
Bond programs require new debt that must be paid back with tax dollars. Without new voter-approved projects, the special property tax reserved for bond payments can drop to zero once all debt is retired.
The last mayor to preside over a successful bond referendum for county projects — 2004’s Building Better Communities program — Penelas said he could structure the new debt to keep rates flat for the county property tax that’s already covering payments tied to the $2.9 billion in bonds that voters authorized 16 years ago.
Levine Cava branded the Penelas call for a new bond program as a promise “to raise taxes.” Bovo and Suarez both said they oppose a new bond program for climate-change projects.
Though she’s made resiliency toward climate change a central part of her campaign, Levine Cava said she’s not backing the kind of bond campaign that could raise billions in new money for the effort.
She said she would look at the $1 billion that’s still waiting to be borrowed from the 2004 referendum and see what projects can be canceled in favor of new ones.
“Clearly we have a climate emergency. I’ve been very outspoken about that issue,” she said. “But it’s irresponsible at this time to be talking about raising taxes when people are suffering as they are. We have to look within our budget.”
The Miami Herald has written articles about other candidates for Miami-Dade mayor, and has more to come. Click here to read about Esteban “Steve” Bovo, Daniella Levine Cava, Alex Penelas, Xavier Suarez, and first-time candidates Monique Nicole Barley and Ludmilla Domond.