MIAMI (CBS4) – Julio Robaina, the former Hialeah mayor now vying to take over the same position in Miami Dade County, declared Tuesday he could solve the county’s projected $400 million deficit without closing any fire stations, laying off any police officers or asking for wage concessions from any county employee who makes less than $80,000 a year.
“You don’t take it from the backs of those people making 30, 40, 50, 60, 70, $80,000 a year,” he said. “You don’t affect those. You look at the top heavy bureaucratic salaries.”
Robaina’s claim – which came during an hour long debate on WMBM 1490-AM – was greeted with derision by Robaina’s opponent, former County Commissioner Carlos Gimenez.
“He’s talking out of both sides of his mouth,” Gimenez said. “He knows very well that even if you eliminate every single administrator in Miami Dade County he is nowhere close to reaching the $200 to $400 million deficit that we are facing. He knows very well he has to go into the contracts because that is where the bulk of the money is.”
Both Robaina and Gimenez promised to roll back last year’s property tax increase. Each of them argued county government is too large, too wasteful and needs to be overhauled.
“We’re all going to have to tighten our belts to reduce the size of government,” Gimenez said. “We have to reduce the size of government. The people have spoken loud and clear.”
“I’m surprised by Commissioner Gimenez’s answer,” Robaina responded, “because over the last seven years, four times he voted for a budget that increased the size of county government and now he wants to reduce the size of county government.”
Gimenez and Robaina are running to replace Carlos Alvarez, whose term as mayor was cut short when resident overwhelmingly voted to recall him in a special election earlier this year.
Robaina and Gimenez said they would drastically reduce the number of county departments. Robaina said both the police department needs to be restructured.
“It’s still too top heavy, its too top heavy in the fire department, as well,” he said. “You need to reorganize those departments.”
Gimenez countered the entire county needed to be examined.
“We need to push those people that are sitting behind desks and put them back on the streets so you can provide core level services on the street level,” he said.
Another major area of debate was the stadium for the Florida Marlins. Gimenez was an outspoken critic of the stadium proposal. Robaina supported the plan and appeared in front of the county commission two years ago when they approved the deal.
“I had to fight three mayors – Mayor Carlos Alvarez, [then City of Miami] Mayor Manny Diaz and Mayor Julio Robaina,” Gimenez said.
Robaina said he was only sympathetic of the concept of keeping baseball in South Florida.
“I stood in front of the county commission to support baseball,” Robaina said, “as many, many, many people in this community did, to support baseball. I’m glad the stadium is built but I’m not happy with the financial deals, I’m not happy that we are not getting revenue.”
Gimenez said Robaina is trying to re-write history.
“The terms of the contract that he is saying are really horrible, that he is complaining about right now,” Gimenez shot back. “That is what he said he supported. Because all those terms that he is complaining about right now was part of that item. That was the baseball deal.”
And in a sign of just how unpopular Florida Gov. Rick Scott has become, both candidates sought to distance themselves from Scott even though they are both registered Republicans. Robaina even endorsed Scott in the general election.
During Tuesday’s debate, however, Robaina said he was unhappy with the governor, and specifically cited the governor’s approach toward education reform.
Gimenez took it even a step further. After criticizing the governor for cutting senior meal programs in Little Havana and Allapatah, Gimenez made it known he didn’t even vote for Scott.
“Who did I vote for for governor – I voted for Sink,” he said.
Both candidates dealt with their recent controversies. Gimenez disavowed any connection to an ethnically charged robo call disparaging to both Robaina and the City of Hialeah – even though his campaign treasurer is on the committee that paid for it.
“I had nothing to do with that robo call and nobody in my campaign had anything to do with that robo call, and if I find out somebody in my campaign did I will fire them immediately,” he said.
And despite being investigated by federal authorities for possible tax evasion, Robaina assured voters he wouldn’t be indicted or arrested while he was mayor.
“Absolutely under no circumstances are we in any way shape or form any threat of not fulfilling our term,” Robaina said.