The County Budget Hearings Have It Backward

For several weeks, I've been reading passionate plea emails to save the $11 million in funding for Miami-Dade cultural programming, all of them written by the heads of well-established, reputable organizations such as the Miami Art Museum, the Wolfsonian, and Vizcaya. Because the funding they receive from the county is crucial seed money -- used to secure all the other grants and donations they apply for -- the loss of county funding would be devastating for all 400 organizations, and deadly for most, so the tone of the emails is professional, pleading, and desperately sincere: "Please show up to the September 17 budget hearing and pledge your support in two minutes or less; be cordial; and don't complain about the raises Alvarez and Moss have handed out."

The stakes are too high, in other words, for the truth.

And the truth is that this entire charade the county is forcing arts organizations and their supporters (social service organizations too) to play along with is demeaning and a waste of everyone's time. Essentially, they're asking people such as GableStage's Joseph Adler, Miami Art Museum's Terry Riley; and Florida Grand Opera's Robert Heuer to take time away from their busy schedules to come and beg for the pittance of money required to run their organizations, while simultaneously amassing as many supporters as possible to give testimony. The implied equation: (two minutes of testimony) x (# of testimonies) = dollars received is pseudo-democratic at best, thuggish at worst.

How many years does Tigertail have to schedule cultural programming from thin air before the county recognizes its inherent value? (Hint: It's apparently more than 30) Miami Light Project? (Hint: Apparently more than 11.) Why should the burden of proof be upon these organizations when the evidence in their favor has been presented time and time again, season after season? (A fact that is self-evident to anyone who's lived here for more than six months.) What does anyone gain from having Mary Luft stand up and explain herself and her organization in two minutes?

If the public budget hearings are really a game of "whoever shows up to the meetings with the most people wins the money," we have to immediately question the governing and critical-thinking skills of the commissioners. Or is it a fact-finding mission? Because if the commissioners really need to hear restaurant owners say, "Yes, my business increases 60 percent on Cultural Fridays," the commissioners are admitting they have a second-grade level understanding of economics and a drunken tourist's conception of the city they profess to lead. I don't even think it's as innocent as an empty procedure in the name of proceduralism, because that would imply no one's gaining anything from it, when in fact someone is: the 13 commissioners.

By sending the message that some funding must be cut -- and doling it out evenly across the spectrum of groups and services that need the funding -- Miami's politicians get a free referendum on what issues voters will swing for. And the value of each organization gets established only in terms of fascist unity.

Dennis Moss, Joe Martinez, Rebeca Sosa, et al., should instead be knocking on all 400 doors (assuming they can find them), apologizing profusely for the mayor's oversight in crafting the budget proposal, and begging them not to pack up their services and take them to a city that would recognize their value.

Then afterward, every city official should have to kneel (to re-establish the proper symbology in the relationship between citizen and political servant in a representative democracy) before the crowd and explain their contributions to this city in two minutes or less.

The final county budget hearings begin today at 5:01 p.m. in the Miami-Dade County Commission Chambers, 111 NW First St., 2nd Floor, Miami.

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