Coral Gables: What Should We Ask the Candidates for Commissioner and Mayor? (1)

It is election time again.

There are a number of well financed candidates for the jobs of commissioner and mayor.  It is hoped that the candidates volunteer their views on property taxes, pensions, salaries, city management and organization, the Biltmore problem, the country club, spending on low priority items, among others.

We look forward in hearing about some of their specific proposals and suggestions for solving the cities problems.

Here are some critical questions that should be asked of the candidates.

These are just examples of questions that might be raised.  Send me your suggestions and I will add them to the list.

TAXES–

  • What are your proposals for future tax increases?
  • Should taxes be frozen for several years in light of the economic crisis the taxpayers are going through in Coral Gables, or should they continue to increase?  Do you favor a real tax freeze (not numbers games with the millage rate)?
  • Do you think that taxpayers are able to continue to pay more and more taxes, as they have in the past.
  • Do you favor increasing fees to make up for tax shortfalls?

BUDGET–

  • Do you favor having an open discussion of the budget by citizens, rather than the two-minute-moments they are getting now.
  • Will the city manager and staff be willing to accept multiple questions on the budget?

OPEN AND TRANSPARENT GOVERNMENT–

  • What will you do about making our government more open and more participatory?
  • Do you favor any of the following:  town hall meetings, open website with a page for comments and question, regular reports from the city manager,  quarterly progress reports on the budget, among others.

SALARIES, PENSIONS, UNIONS–

  • What should be the goals of the city negotiations with the police and firefighters?
  • Should the negotiations continues to be secret for the citizens?
  • Should police and firefighter salaries and benefits be cut.
  • Should  the number of police and firefighters be cut to help cut expenses and taxes?
  • Are you willing to take a strong stance against salaries and benefits in future Impasse Hearing?

PRIORITY SERVICES–

  • What services do you propose to cut in order to keep our taxes down?
  • Will you restrict unnecessary spending related to the Museum or other community centers in Coral Gables?

CAPITAL SPENDING–

  • What are your ideas for capital spending in the coming years?
  • Should we keep borrowing money for capital projects?

Alvarez needs Benevolent Association: Recall Moving Ahead

The support of the Dade County Police Benevolent Society (its name itself a flat contradiction in terms) for Mayor Alvarez demonstrates once again the negative influence of public sector labor unions, their disproportionate influence over government and elected officials, their glaring indifference to the well being of the greater number of taxpayers and their arrogance of infallibility.

Alvarez is countering the recall momentum with a long-standing base of support: The Dade County Police Benevolent Association has donated $50,000 to a PAC the mayor formed to mount a defense.

Alvarez formed the PAC, called Citizens For Truth, allowing him to raise unlimited sums of money. According to the latest filings, he has raised $54,650. Nearly all came from the PBA, which held a rally on the mayor’s behalf this weekend.

Alvarez was former director of Miami-Dade Police and earlier this year backed a 13 percent pay hike for county police, which will take effect in installments from September 2010 to September 2011.

via Braman: Signatures collected to put recall to voters – Miami-Dade Breaking News – MiamiHerald.com.

Let Local Government Face Reality–Coral Gables, Too

If state and local government employment is falling, this is just to recognize that many of these governments over expanded employment, salaries and pensions during the real estate bubble. Coral Gables did this.

There are many years of adjustment that must be made in the local and state governments.  Let’s hope that our local municipal and county leaders will face reality before they keep hitting up taxpayers, instead they need to do real deep adjustments in budgets, salaries and benefits, organization and prioritizing services.  They keep postponing their own pain with the expectation that the economy will bail them out.

Regarding today’s employment report

“The private-sector growth is somewhat heartening but in total you have to expect that state and local and government jobs are going to be a drag for a number of months and perhaps a number of quarters,” Bill Gross, co-chief investment officer at Pacific Investment Management Co. in Newport Beach, California, said in a radio interview on “Bloomberg Surveillance” with Tom Keene. He called the report a “strong signal” for further Fed action.

via Employers in U.S. Cut More Jobs Than Forecast (Update3) – Bloomberg.com.

Wages of Coral Gables Firefighters and Other Cities: We’re Pretty Good

I have constructed a short list of recent information on firefighter base salaries (exclude pensions and other benefits, overtime, etc.).  The wages are based on an annual survey of the Florida Professional Firefighter organization.  The full information can be found at their website.

We can draw some conclusions that  1) Coral Gables officers, lieutenants and captains and, by inference, chief and deputy chiefs, are very well paid compared to other cities and counties–we are very competitive, 2) Coral Gables firefighters start at a better salary than many other cities so we are competitive, 3) we know that the pension and health benefits are still more than competitive in Coral Gables especially as other cities cut back pensions, and 4) firefighters and their management earn wages that are equivalent to or higher than many other management and employee levels in our government.

Remember that in Coral Gables you multiply their basic compensation by 65 percent to get the current cost of pensions, and even that large value is underfunded by almost a factor of 50 percent. One may conclude that we are paying firefighters more than enough to attract people at even lower salaries and benefits as we compare them to other cities and counties. (An exception in the City of Miami where firefighter compensation was completely out of control until this year’s budget emergency.)

Private Employees vs. Public Employees w. Labor Unions

There is a fair amount of public information  on the impact of public employee labor unions on the cost of state and local governments and comparisons of wages and benefits (pensions and health care) of private and public workers.

Here are some ideas about public employees and local and state labor unions.  (Remember, these is based on national and state-wide information, not Coral Gables in particular.)

  • Pensions and health plans are very underfunded (or “over promised”, if you will) across the nation in state and local governments;
  • On average, public employees’ wages and benefits are as much as 8 percent higher than the private sectors wages, but these are just average for all age groups and education levels;
  • Public employees on average are older as a group and have higher education attainments–so the reported wage and benefits difference are not that  great, although underfunded benefits are under-reported so you are not getting true measures of benefits for public employees.
  • And, to be fair, data across the nation show public employees receiving about 4 percent lower wages and benefits than private employees.  There is a small difference of 1% in favor of  private employees for the same age and education groups;
  • The rise of public sector unions in the last 20 to 30 years, and their ability to negotiate that has been extended by national and state laws and helped to increase salaries and benefits;
  • Labor unions have been large contributors to candidates for state and local government, and this has helped them leverage more local power into salaries and benefits;
  • A big difference between public and private employees is that public employees have much better pensions programs than private employees; they retire at an earlier age than the private sector (this allows for double dipping); they work fewer hours than in the private sector (isn’t that nice); and they often have inflation protection for their pension.
  • Some jobs in the private and public sectors are not comparable, especially, for public security.
  • Public employees have much better health plan coverage than private employees.
  • All benefits to public employees are really higher than the apparent budgeted values because the pension and health care funds are hugely underfunded.

What can we conclude:  public employees are well paid on average; their benefits are exceptional; they have great flexibility to retire early and take up another career; unions have had a disproportionate impact on wages and benefits for some groups like public security; taxpayers will be stuck with unfunded liabilities for a long time for no good reason; they have great health benefits; and they are politically resistant to reducing salaries and benefits.

I plan to report in more detail on some of these conclusions in coming days.

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