MDC Asks For Local Taxpayer Support

Miami Dade College is lobbying for a bill that would asks local voters to approve a half-cent sales tax increase to help raise money for the school’s finances.

If approved by the State Legislature the measure would be put on a ballot for voters of Miami-Dade to decide to raise sales taxes to 7.5 cents.

MDC would receive about $186,303,015 a year in additional funding, according to the Office of Economic and Demographic Research report of the fiscal year ending in September 2012.

An Economic Modeling Specialists International Economic Impact Study in 2012 reported a contribution from MDC to local economy of $3.3 billion annually.

“The people up here [legislators] are not voting for the tax increase,” said Victoria Hernandez, director of governmental affairs and head lobbyist for MDC. “They are only voting for the authority to let Miami Dade [County] voters decide whether yay or nay on the tax.”

Hernandez stressed that the bill would ultimately rest on the voters of Miami-Dade county to decide to allow the half-cent raise.

Under the current version of the bill, MDC would be eligible to receive the sales tax money temporarily for 10 years before the bill would have to voted on again.

This boost in revenue would go toward scholarships, financial aid, renovation and maintenance, improvement and construction of facilities and new technology, such as greater infrastructure for the Virtual College.

The bill was sponsored by two Miami-Dade County Republicans, Erik Fresen representative  of District 114 and chair of the Education Appropriations Subcommittee, and Senator Anitere Flores of District 37.

“Right now we are asking Florida’s legislature to simply give the voters of Miami-Dade County a voice, a say, an opportunity to decide in a future election if they wish to support MDC with local funds, as occurs in most other states,” said Juan Mendieta, director of communications at MDC.

Several states across the nation including Texas, Ohio, California and Illinois, already provide a local revenue source to their community colleges in addition to state funding.

“Due to severe budget cuts in the last several years, MDC has many unmet needs that total nearly $2 billion,” said Mendieta. “From technology to new campuses that put a quality MDC education closer to the people to expanded student services and financial aid, MDC has many critical needs. Continuing without additional funding can put MDC’s open access in danger.”

This comes in the wake of recent years of funding cuts as enrollment has continued to rise — much from students from economically challenged homes.

MDC has lost 25% in state funding per full-time equivalent (FTE) student since 2007-08, falling from $3,613 to $2,748 per FTE. MDC has lost 14% of its state budget ($26.8 million) since 2007-08.

Forty-six thousand students are currently attending MDC without state support, representing $52.2 million in lost  revenue needed for instruction.

MDC has also lost $61 million in matching funds to leverage private funds raised.

Students are having to pay the price for losses in state funding: State’s share of MDC’s operational funds has fallen from 64% to 47% in the last four years, raising tuition.

The proposal has stirred some MDC students to act on behalf of the College.

An email sent March 15 by the Student Government Association Presidents urged students and faculty at MDC to contact their representatives and ask them to vote for the bill on Mar. 19.

“As your elected Student Government Association Presidents, we work diligently year-round to address pressing issues that impact us at the local, state, and national levels,” the email read.

“We write you today to urgently ask for your support of two bills that are making their way through committees in Tallahassee. We ask you to lend support to bills HB 1295 and SB 1718 that will allow a countywide referendum on local support for Miami Dade College,” signed by all eight of the MDC campus’ presidents along with a contact list of representatives.

The proposal has even gotten support from local community leaders who have taken to write op-eds and columns in The Miami Herald and  El Nuevo Herald to voice their support.

Daniel Shoer Roth, columnist at El Nuevo Herald, Norman Braman, businessman and civic activist and Bob Martinez lawyer and former vice chair of the Florida Board of Education who served as chair of the Board of Trustees for Miami Dade College from 1999 – 2005, have all voiced support for the proposal.

This wouldn’t be the first time a tax initiative would be passed in order to support MDC. In 1992, after Hurricane Andrew, voters then  showed their support by approving a special county two-year millage of three-quarter mills ( a mill is $1 in taxes for every $1,000 in taxable values) for MDC programs.

In 2009 a similar bill to the one currently being proposed failed after objections of then-state Rep. Ellyn Bogdanoff of Broward County. Bogdanoff refused to hear the bill in her Finance and Tax Council, making it impossible for the MDC measure to receive a full House vote.This coming after the measure passed unanimously in the Senate.

The sales tax, if approved, would be the least burdensome on residents, with visitors contributing approximately one-third of the revenues. A sales tax does not apply to food or medicine.

On average the sales tax would cost about $1 a week or the cost of a can of soda.