It's terrific that seemingly every level of government has been infected with vigilance toward waste, but you can have too much of a good thing. Prudence with trimming budgets can quickly turn to hysteria, especially when politics is involved. There's a risk of being penny-wise and pound-foolish.
Consider a scene from the political theater on the Sunrise City Commission dais. This week, Commissioner Joey Scuotto pilloried his four colleagues for having the nerve to vote in a 4 percent raise for themselves at a time when the city is, like the rest of us, facing a budget crunch.
Scuotto was given a hearty pat on the back by a Miami Herald editorial that began thus: "The only person on the Sunrise City Commission dais who gets it is Commissioner Joseph Scuotto." And for that, former Sun-Sentinel political columnist Buddy Nevins pronounced that the "Miami Herald gets it."
I guess I don't get it. Let's look at the big picture.
For starters, Scuotto is decidedly in the commission minority -- a position whose only advantage is the occasional opportunity to vote against measures he may secretly favor, purely for the sake of impugning his political foes. In 2006, when Scuotto was joined on the dais by Mayor Steven Feren and Commissioner Irwin Harlem in the majority, would he have made such a stink about a 4 percent raise? I doubt it.
Not that we need to speculate on Scuotto's motives. There's plenty of evidence in his record. Take his enduring friendship with the city's trash hauler, All Service Refuse. If Scuotto is such a guardian of city funds, then why did he throw a fit when Commissioner Sheila Alu took the sensible, long-overdue view that the city ought to at least put its trash contract up for bid? You know, considering the city had not done so in a few decades and happened to be paying a hefty sum for the service compared to other cities?
That doesn't sound like the behavior of a government fat-trimmer. But then, don't forget that the trash-hauling company was Scuotto's biggest campaign contributor, that Scuotto's catering company worked All Service picnics, and that his brother and nephew have both been employed by the company. Scuotto himself took at least one vacation with an All Service official, in 2002. I personally saw the home video in which Scuotto rides horses in Montana with the company's area president. At roughly $16 million, the trash bill is a far bigger budget item than the $38,000 commissioner salaries.
So at the very least, Scuotto's grandstanding on the measly 4 percent raise ought to be treated with skepticism. But to claim that he's the single commissioner who "gets it" is short-sighted and misleading. It gives Scuotto an advantage in his reelection campaign that he has not earned.
For more on the All Service/Sunrise connection, check out the article I wrote on the subject in December 2006.