Commissioner Xavier Suarez Wants to Cap County Salaries at $162,000

It's no secret that County Commissioner Xavier Suarez is gearing up a campaign for mayor. Now, the former city mayor's first real broadside at county hall is closer to heading to voters: a petition that would cap most county salaries at the same pay earned by Florida's Supreme Court Justices, which is $162,000 per year.

Suarez's petition nabbed initial approval from the clerk of courts Friday, meaning he can now begin gathering the 50,000-plus signatures needed to get it on a ballot next year.

"There are 120 people in County government today making more than Florida's Supreme Court justices," Suarez tells New Times. "Folks are fed up with that."

Suarez says the cap is needed because county government has seen an influx of highly paid managers and a decrease in average-joe employees.

"Ten percent of the entire payroll is making over six figures today," he says. "Managers have increased, while the rank-and-file people who do all the real work have gone in the opposite direction."

The petition would exempt some positions from the cap, including the mayor, commissioners, and county attorney, who makes more than $300,000 per year.

There are some obvious hurdles to the idea. The petition would cap salaries for everyone else in the county attorney's office, a plan that could hamstring the county in attracting top-flight attorneys to work for city government.

Employee unions, meanwhile, would almost certainly fight the idea tooth-and-nail. And Mayor Carlos Gimenez -- Suarez's eventual political target -- was quick to call the idea political opportunism, pointing out in a statement that the commissioner has regularly backed tax increases that "would have resulted in salary increases and more expensive benefits for employees."

Still, the petition is likely to resonate among voters still fighting through a limp local economic recovery. Suarez tells New Times he's confident he can nab the 4 percent of all registered voters needed to get the proposal on the next general election ballot.

Here's the petition:

Pay Limit Petition

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Tim Elfrink is a former investigative reporter and managing editor for Miami New Times. He has won the George Polk Award and was a finalist for the Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting.
Contact: Tim Elfrink