MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Miami-Dade mayoral candidates Daniella Levine Cava and Steve Bovo went head-to-head Sunday on a special debate edition of Facing South Florida.
Host Jim DeFede moderated the debate, starting with the topic of county core services.
DEFEDE: I want to start, because I think one of the issues that I want to try to drill in on is, is the issue of what are county core services. But more importantly, I think we all agree that police fire, sanitation, you know, getting the parks clean. I’ve heard each of you sort of talk about this. But I want to go to the flip side, because I want to understand from your perspective, and I want to start with you, Steve, what do you not consider a county core service? Or what do you not consider essential that should economic downturns occur as we may end up seeing that you would be willing to cut? Where’s an area in the county that you would cut?
BOVO: It’s very hard to specify what would be non-essential because over the years, as the county’s budget has grown, these things become baked into the budget, and then they become essential. We spend about $16 million a year on CBO. We contract non for profits and other agencies to provide services that the county quite honestly does not want to provide. But over the years, they found it necessary to do. So they could run the gamut from programs that give counseling to illegal immigrants to duplication of programs. We have multiple layers of programs that provide programming for kids, for elderly, for the disabled, and they’re all important. But when you start getting into a situation where the budget is being impacted, you know, the core services start getting affected. And that’s going to be the challenge, I think, coming on the horizon is how do you balance that budget and not failing?
DEFEDE: Well, let me just sort of drill down on this, because I’ve heard you sort of talk about, and I’m not 100% clear. Do you consider services to help the homeless to be non-essential?
BOVO: No. So that’s why I’m saying all of them become essential. But the question, I think, what is the most, you know, essential, or the must do. What we engage county government to do? And I you already mentioned it earlier. It’s, you know, police, fire, it’s water, sewer, it’s park programming. And the further, further you get away from those points, you know, the harder it becomes to comply with those core services, of course, helping the homeless, helping in the issues of mental health, they’re all critically important, absolutely. And we engage a lot of partners. There’s a lot of private money in these spaces also that help and support these efforts.
DEFEDE: Can you identify any specific area where you would cut?
BOVO: Well, I don’t have anything in front of me right now that we would need to cut because our budget right now is whole, in do part, because of federal money that’s been able to support us. But as we move forward, and we run into situations where our budget is going to be constrained, we’re going to have to the age old conversation: Do you cut services or do you raise taxes? And I’ve been clear that we’re not going to raise taxes. It would be outrageous to turn to our residents, ask them for more money, particularly when many have gone through difficult situations.
DEFEDE: Let me bring Daniella in. Are you able to identify? Because you’ve also said that you did not want to raise taxes. But you’ve also aligned a number of things that ambitious programs that you want to see enacted within the county, those are going to cost money. Are there areas where you would cut? And are you willing to be more honest with voters and say, ‘You know what, we may have to pay a little bit more for these services?’ Why take a no tax increase pledge?
CAVA: This is not a time that people can pay more in taxes. We are all of us suffering from this economic downturn. It’s going to take us a while to recover. We’re going to have to live within our means. County government cannot print money, we know that, not like the federal government. And so let’s just mention that the federal government has come to our aid with half a billion dollars that we’ve used from the CARES Act funding for a variety of causes to help our small businesses and our struggling families. But with that said, we are going to need more because we’ve got thousands of people in the pipeline for evictions. We have mortgage foreclosures on the horizon, many more looming. People who’ve deferred their payments on their credit cards that are facing dire economic straits. And I do believe that it’s county’s job to take care of the overall wellbeing of our residents. So we have to do everything in our power. We can do more infrastructure projects, get them in the ground quicker, so that we can create new jobs and deploy people quickly. For those we can bring our business and community together to talk about priorities. We may need to look at some of our spending categories for sure.
DEFEDE: Can you identify one? Can you identify spending category that you think the county should not be involved in?
CAVA: Well, first of all, we have to look at efficiencies. For example, I talked to some of the city mayors about ways that we might be able to combine functions, city and county. We have some duplicating functions there. The county needs to play a convening role to help with regional decision making around you know, resilience, for example. We all are focused on resilience and the way that we adapt to rising seas, saltwater intrusion in our drinking water, the health of the bay. These things, maybe we are doing it in a way that could be consolidated, that could be more efficient. So I’m going to be tasking the county staff, our partner, agencies, cities, private sector to look at efficiencies in government. I am sure that we could start with those before we have to look at cutting basic services.
DEFEDE: I want to come back to you, Steve for a second because again, I just, it just seems to me that so much of your campaign is based on saying, ‘These are the core services.’ And as we sort of said police fire, sanitation, you know, cleaning parks, I think you’ve always mentioned. It suggests to me that if you’re not in those categories, that you are eligible to be cut. Why am I not thinking of that correctly if that’s not the case? Are libraries susceptible to being cut? You know, things along that line. Again, I come back to the idea of you want to sort of be a fiscal conservative in your approach, that’s your sales pitch. What are you willing to tell the voter that you’re willing to cut if you are elected and you need to?
BOVO: Well, first, let me clear up, it’s not a sales pitch. I launched my campaign before COVID-19, before anything else was going on in our community. And I had said I felt that county government was getting further and further away from that core mission of what it was being designed to do. You know, there are complaints by residents, on a daily basis, where they feel that whether it was not enough police or police took too long to get to them or fire where they go to the park and complain because the grass had not been cut. And they feel this is what they’re paying their taxes for. And, you know, I would remind you, Jim, that over the last 25 years, we’ve had four areas incorporated in Miami-Dade County, four of them. And all four incorporated with the same narrative. They were complaining that the county was not providing the service. In fact, they were willing to tax themselves more to get those services. And it was police, code enforcement, fire, better garbage pickup. I mean, this is a real narrative. If you own a home, you’re concerned, you want to make sure that the taxes that you’re paying are going to your quality of life. And I think sometimes what ends up happening is that there’s a government fix for everything. You know, we created, there’s a situation, and government immediately feels that it has to create a program to solve that problem. Where maybe we have to revisit ways of doing these things. You know, there’s a reason, Jim, why we’re seeing major metropolises is in the United States failing. Where people are leaving those areas because I believe these local governments start failing in the purpose that they were created for.
DEFEDE: Daniella, let me bring you in here for just at the end about this section. When you hear Commissioner Bovo talk about the core services, what do you hear? Do you hear cuts to other areas? I mean, I got I’m trying to figure out, you know, I’m trying to cut through to try to hear what the voters may actually end up with the result of either you being elected mayor would be. Tell me what you think he means when he talks about core services.
CAVA: Well, I think we don’t have to hear just these words, we could look at his votes. For example, he voted against the aid for the federal government being used for rental assistance on the first round. He also voted against paid sick to our county contract employees in the middle of a pandemic. He’s been involved in making it more difficult to get access to Obamacare. I mean, these are definitely things that are different between us, where I take a more holistic view of taking care of the wellbeing of our residents as part of government’s function.
BOVO: I want to clear something up. And, Daniella, you need to be honest with folks. OK, let’s be clear on something. There was a proposal to create a fund to help renters. I didn’t vote against it. I made sure that it was spread out through the entire county. There was a proposal to grant sick leave to subcontractors in the airport. We never voted on it because no one seconded it. Nobody, not even her Democrat colleagues on the Board of County Commission seconded the motion, because it was outrageous during this period of time to put more burden on those that create jobs. You know, we didn’t vote on Obamacare at the Board of County Commission. You know, the reality is that if we’re going to be mindful with the taxpayers’ dollars, then policies that are being created need to take that into account. And I’ll also remind everyone, that the federal money is not free money. This is not monopoly. Our children and our grandchildren are going to be paying for this money. And instead of us creating policies that perhaps was really going to help our community, all we did was take money and start spreading it out very thinly, I would tell you, in every single bucket that we could possibly do. I don’t think it’s going to help the real conversation in our county, the recovery of our economy.
CAVA: I just want to be very clear that everything I referenced is on the record, these are clear votes. And, you know, I stand by my record and I hope he stands by his. As far as not giving health benefits, giving sick days during a pandemic, you know, shame on shame on everyone. This is a federally guaranteed for federal contractors benefit and shameful that pennies on the dollar that we identified it would cost was not approved.
DEFEDE: I want to stay with the issue of economic development for a second. And one of the things that’s really, really interesting about your guys’ race is that you both sit on the county commission. So there are lots of opportunities to look at votes you’ve each taken, you know, on major issues, and to compare the two of them. I want to just go back to 2018 to a vote on the American Dream Mall. That project, which is a $4 billion mega mall which would also be a theme park built in northwest Miami-Dade on the edge of the Everglades. I want to start with you, Daniella. You opposed that despite the fact that proponents of it said that it would be bringing, you know, anywhere from 10 to 40,000 jobs, including a lot of construction jobs during the building of that that project. Why did you oppose it? And if that’s not the type of development that you looking for in the county, what type is? But again, first address your no vote on that major development project in northwest Miami Dade.
CAVA: Many reasons that I voted against it. I voted against it on several occasions – at the initial land swap, at the subsequent approval and then at the final approval. Because, environmentally, we’re building on the edge of the Everglades. We’re using a phenomenal amount of water, fresh water, that we really can’t afford to use for a project like this. Because the county is subsidizing it already by building out major water infrastructure and transit infrastructure to the site without any kind of compensation from the project. Because the developer would not agree to commit to not come back for subsidy. And we know that the history of these similar projects and other places are filled with subsidy. And because the jobs that would have been created would be lower paid jobs that would have leeched from other malls in the area. And now look what’s happened to malls generally. So there were a host of reasons and unanswered questions why I voted against this.
DEFEDE: I want to just sort of say, we don’t know if this this eventually will be built. But the approval process that was started in 2015 ended in 2018. When you (Bovo) were a chair of the commission, I know that you tried to strike some bargains with the developer. Critics say it didn’t go far enough. But to the point of traffic, you’re talking about a project that the developer was saying would bring 60 million people a year into the area, including 70,000 cars. Basically, create a new Dolphin Expressway up around that area in terms of the level of tracking traffic and congestion that the folks in Miami Lake oppose. Why did you think this was a good idea? Especially, and she also points out, that the developers stated that there was, I think, it’s 60% of the jobs that would have been permanently created were $25,000 or less. Are those the kind of jobs that you want to create in Miami-Dade County?
BOVO: I think it’s a good reminder that the county does not create these jobs, the private sector does. What was offered to us was an opportunity to be transformative in an area of Miami-Dade County where we don’t have a lot going on. I live very close to where this mall would be built. And we made sure that we worked extensively with the developers of what they were offering that to not only address the issues of transportation, I think we spent hours on this issue of transportation. We also made sure whatever money was being invested was going to be invested in that area from the proceeds of the mall. Because this not only creates jobs, and I think it’s important to understand the magnitude of the jobs that they would be creating at a whole bunch of different levels. But also the tax base they’re recreating. Thirty-five million dollars a year in tax revenue is extremely important, especially for a county that’s always trying to figure out how do we create more revenue without needing to raise taxes. You know, when we talked about this, and this is in my community, that extensive conversations with Miami Lakes, we’ve had extensive conversations with folks in south Broward County. And obviously, look these kind of projects to have an impact. It’s questionable in today’s climate, whether they’re going to go through with this or not. It’s really on them whether they’re going to go through with it. I would be as mayor making sure that we’re not going to back into some deals that we’re going to subsidize it. The county taxpayer is not into the mall subsidy business.
DEFEDE: How do you weigh the balance, the needs of the environment? For instance, this is a project that would be built on the edge of the Everglades that environmentalist said did not have an adequate plan for dealing with its water resupply use that it would draw water from our aquifer. How do you balance the needs of the environmentalist with the economic needs of the county? That seems to be an issue, that is always a struggle. Do you come down more on the side of economic development than on environmental concerns?
BOVO: No, no, you have to come up with a balance. But I think I need to remind folks what is on the edge there. It’s rock mining areas. It’s not Everglades, it’s rock mine. Those of us that live up in this part of the county, fully are well understanding what is in this area. It’s not Everglades. And I would tell you, you have to have a balance, you know, in the in the mall, folks would have to be contributors through their tax dollars to help build the infrastructures to supply it with water, there’s a reverse osmosis plant out very near the area. And on top of that, they would have to be contributors for all the development in the area. And making sure, I would try to make sure, at the request of the mayor of Miami Lakes and Hialeah gardens, and Hialeah, which are all of the affected areas, that a lot of that money stays in the area to mitigate whatever movement is in the area.
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DEFEDE: Daniella, I want to bring you in. How do you how do you measure between environmental concerns and the economic concerns at a time when the county desperately needs to improve its tax base?
CAVA: Look, environmental projects are infrastructure projects that create great jobs. So for example, we should be using that money that is dedicated to building a major trunk line out there for the septic to sewer conversion. Why was that not prioritized? We have not set aside the necessary funds from our current water and sewer fee system to help us with the conversion that we all see now is so desperately needed with the fish kill in the bay. These are things that I’ve been calling for, for several years with great frustration at the lack of activism on the part of our current administration. And instead, we’re going to be squandering money for a private developer that, you know, the jobs that will be brought are not necessarily ones that are the best for our economy when we could be spending the money instead on infrastructure projects with better jobs.
DEFEDE: I just want to ask Commissioner Bovo for a second. And I want to come back to you on the same point. But just sort of quickly, give me your ideal scenario for the types of jobs that you want to bring into Miami-Dade County. So there’s I know that there’s been a lot of concern about wanting to diversify from tourism. This mall seems to be more of a tourist-based area. And I realize, I’m not suggesting that this mall was the panacea for everything that you propose. But what types of jobs and what steps would you want to make to bring into Dade?
BOVO: Yeah, look, the pandemic has shown us that our reliance on tourism can be crippled and I represent many residents in my community have gone without work for now seven months. I think we missed out precisely because the county had been dragging its feet on infrastructure projects for such a long time. On Amazon, for example, we miss out on Amazon, and I said it, I said it for the record, Amazon would not come because they were not going to bring those high-paying jobs to Miami-Dade County and then stick them in traffic. So I would tell you, that should be a signal to the county that you know the next Board of County Commission and one elected mayor, I’m going to work exclusively on these issues of transportation and infrastructure to help draw that $50 an hour job, that $100 an hour job. The tech companies that could come and relocate to South Florida. We have a lot to offer. Very cosmopolitan base of Miami-Dade County, very diverse, and that should be our asset to draw people into Miami-Dade County.
DEFEDE: Commissioner Cava, what types of jobs do you want to see? What types of economy do you want to see in Miami-Dade County?
CAVA: Well, no question, we have to diversify. Manufacturing is a critical area where we really could have more incentives. Yes, we need apprenticeships for the kinds of technical skill jobs. We have apprenticeship programs here – elevators, escalators, plumbing, all of the building trades. Those are great jobs, and you can get to them without a college education. And you can get paid while you’re in training. So we definitely need to create more of a pipeline to those kinds of good jobs and then also our internationalism, not just for tourism. International finance hub. Iternational education hub. These are really, really good jobs that put us on the map. But look, tourism is number one, and we definitely want to signal that we’re safe and open for business and that we’re going to use all the precautions.
DEFEDE: We touched on transit briefly in the last subject. So I want to I want to start with you Commissioner Cava. There was a measure to support rail into South Dade that you voted for and to scrap the BRT, which would be the Bus Rapid Transit system that has $100 million in federal funding already guaranteed for it. You supported a rail system into South Dade that would have been a billion dollars more expensive, just in terms of capital costs. It did not seem to make as much sense in terms of the number of riders you were going to add. Did you basically support rail as a way of trying to curry votes in South Dade? I mean, is rail really the answer in South Dade?
CAVA: So we know people were promised things all over Miami-Dade County, and obviously South Dade was promised rail. And neither Steve nor I, you know, are responsible for the lies that were perpetrated with a half penny. But that to be said, I was actually the first one to bring BRT to the attention of the Transportation Planning Organization as an option. And then we engaged in a very serious and expensive study. And part of that study included the possibility of building rail incrementally. Rail was the preferred option because it’s a one seat ride, it would attract more riders, it would do more to relieve traffic.
DEFEDE: It’s also massively more expensive, though, isn’t it?
CAVA: Yeah, but we did not yet have that federal money in place. We were rushing to that decision so we could apply for that federal money. And yes, it was, of course, better rated, let’s say, because BRT was a less expensive alternative that could move more quickly. But what happened was that the rail possibility was not really given its full day in court. It had been promised again by Mayor Gimenez in his reelection campaign. And Commissioner Moss and I, Commissioner Suarez, and a few others on the TPO, voted to go with the good possibility that we could incrementally build rail and have BRT for the balance.
DEFEDE: Let me bring Commissioner Bovo in on that. When you looked at that vote, and the fact that that Commissioner Cava supported the idea of rail over the BRT at that point, what do you think was driving that? And why did you think that that was a bad decision?
BOVO: Look, obviously there was an element of politics involved. But she’s right. She didn’t promise all these grand plans and nor did I. But as policymakers we needed to make the difficult decisions. Look, I like to see rail all the way to Florida City. I’d like to see rail to all different parts of our county, but we need to be realistic. You can’t tell the folks in South Dade you’re going to one thing and at the same time tell the folks in North Dade you’re going to do the same thing, because we don’t have enough money. You know, the issue here, I thought, was the building block, the foundation. Transit has to have a couple of components for us to be able to do it successfully in South Florida, because we’ve built ourselves out in a way that has created this chaos that we have now of traffic. And for me, and this could be laid out to anyone in the corridors. You know, the transit corridor needs to have proper development around the stations that help us create the funds necessary without raising taxes. And then you need to create that density ridership marriage that would allow us then to graduate to better and better options in the future.
DEFEDE: Commissioner Bovo, I want to come to you about a vote that you took to support the Kendall Parkway. And let’s just remind folks a little bit about what the Kendall Parkway is. This would essentially build out the 836 into, you know, passed the urban development boundary line, into an area, you know, budding the Everglades, and would basically add more highways to Dade County rather than dealing with the issue of rail. You know, critics have noted, even the county’s own experts have said, that it would only save about six minutes of commute time from the Kendall area to downtown Miami. Why did you support this plan? And is highways really the best answer to transit in in Miami-Dade County?
BOVO: In order to get transit out to the area that we’re talking about, the ones that are most affected out of that West Kendall area, and I know it well. I went to high school out in the West Kendall area. We don’t have the money to do it. We don’t have the path to do it to be honest with you because of the way they’ve developed. And this is the sins of the past that we have to deal with. And as mayor I’ll have to deal with. You know, this was one of those instances where actually residents step forward from West Kendall and were asking for a toll road. It is it sounds crazy, I know. But the residents in that area are so desperate for some sort of relief that they were willing to support a toll road going out to their area to give them relief.
DEFEDE: But the problem is the county’s own experts say that it doesn’t provide that relief, that it does’t mitigate congestion.
BOVO: Actually, that is debatable, because I haven’t seen a county report that said that. I saw advocates that spoke against it, saying it. Because those that were against it literally lived east of US-1.
DEFEDE: But Planning Chief Mark Woerner, an expert witness for the county, in a hearing in July 2019, said a reduction in travel times would be just 5%, which would be about six minutes of saving time. That’s the county’s expert.
BOVO: Again, that is very debatable. And I don’t know under what conditions he was saying that, because he didn’t say that while we were debating the item. And we had extensive conversation, not just at the Board of County Commission, at the TPO. So what I did was to make sure that whatever we out there, if it was a Kendall Parkway, even a toll road, was too bake transit into it. You know, I made sure that we had to create the space because ultimately, there’s a future generation that wants these options in transit. And I would tell you that anything that’s built in the future needs to have a transit component baked into it so it could work.
DEFEDE: Daniella, you voted against it? Why did you oppose it if the residents out there wanted it?
CAVA: So many reasons, Jim. Let’s start with that this was another toll road, it was disguised with a pretty name. It was an extension of 836 toll road. And it would not save time, so it would not really relieve traffic in the end. We had developers talking to me anticipating the opportunity to build once that road was in place, even though supposedly safeguards were built in a higher threshold to approve more development projects. In my mind, it would just be another excuse to build further out. Also, there were environmental concerns that were not discussed at all at the decision making process because our environmental office doesn’t get involved until the permitting phase. So we did not even have the information about the critical nature of these lands and the potential that they are needed for Everglades restoration. And so all of these things together, also the Miccosukee tribe that had not been consulted, and actually touches and affects their lands. Many, many reasons that it was really sold to the public without disclosure of all these risks and all of this potential damage.
DEFEDE: I need to move on to another issue, which I’ve saved for last, in part, because I don’t know what to make of this issue. I see some of the commercials that both of you are running. In particular, I will come to you as Steve on this. The impression I’m left with watching your commercials is that if Daniella is elected, Miami is going to burn like Portland, New York and Chicago. Is that what you’re trying to say? That the city will be overrun by anarchists, if we end up electing Daniella Levine Cava as mayor?
BOVO: What I’m saying in my ads, Jim, is that we don’t want to be what those other communities are. We’ve seen what has happened in Portland, in New York, in Chicago. And in fact, Jim, I would remind people that we had cars burning here in Miami, also. You know, we had police officers being pelted with rocks, also. You know, we saw demonstrations here. I will tell you, steadfastly, if I’m mayor, we will work aggressively not to allow that. I’m OK with peaceful protest. You know, thank God that this country allows that. But what we’re seeing is elements that are not in line with peaceful protests, where they are full of hate for this country. And we’re seeing it manifested, you know, almost on a daily basis in Portland. What I’ve said steadfastly is, I don’t want us to be New York, Portland or Chicago. I won’t embrace any of those policies that lead us to that point.
DEFEDE: But you’ve also accused Daniella of marching against the police. That when she was taking part in those peaceful protests, she was actually doing so against police officers.
BOVO: I’ll tell you something. As a leader in our community, OK, again, peaceful protests is OK. But when it starts unraveling into anarchy, when you start posting on social media that all cops are bad, when you start posting no justice, no peace…
DEFEDE: I’m sorry, did she post that all cops are bad?
BOVO: Oh, absolutely. It was in a social media. And when she posted that, in fact, the PBA came out with a strongly worded letter requesting that she apologize for the post. That never happened, she never apologized to them. And, you know, we see an assault on police across the board.
DEFEDE: I need to bring Daniella on this. I want to ask this question directly. The question has been raised as to whether or not you support defunding the police, and I looked at this extensively. So there was a memo that was put out, and in fact, more than just the memo, the original draft of the proposal for the ICP, the original draft ordinance, did have language in it that would have taken 1% of the police budget for this. The final version that passed, did not have that language. But the original language of the amendment of the ordinance did contain that language about 1% coming from the police department. Did you not look at this carefully enough?
CAVA: Jim, to be clear, I think the point was the equivalent of 1%, not that it come necessarily, and was never voted upon. I would never ever and did not vote to take 1% of the police budget for the ICP. It was very clear from the sponsor that was not her intention. We didn’t vote that we didn’t approve it. I’ve been clear from the start. And yet this is a lie that my opponent persists in because, frankly, he’s trying to scare people.
DEFEDE: Here’s the exact wording from the draft ordinance, this was the original ordinance, which was later amended. “But it is recommended that funding for the panel be no less than 1% of the Miami-Dade Police Department’s operating budget, exclusive of funding for the panel.”
CAVA: That does not say it’s going to come from the police budget. It is not saying that at all. It’s saying that that’s an amount of money that potentially it could cost. Which by the way, the final approval is not anything near that dollar figure. So it was not voted to approve taking money from the police. We didn’t, it wasn’t proposed by Commissioner Jordan, the prime sponsor, we didn’t vote for it to be taken from the police. The amount of money is not even what was originally considered as 1% of the equivalent of the police budget, and it’s moving forward. And I think it’ll be great. It’s going to restore trust in communities that have had less trust in policing because of a history of past discrimination. And no, fortunately, the murder of George Floyd did not happen in Miami-Dade County, and our county police is of the first class and they have great training that deals with these issues and I’m all for them. But this is something that will help our community to establish trust.