Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine has lost the first round of his clash with Gov. Rick Scott and his fight to raise the city's minimum wage to $13.31 per hour. Circuit Judge Peter R. Lopez issued a ruling Tuesday declaring Miami Beach's Living Wage Ordinance invalid.
Not that Levine cares. The flamboyant mayor is now assured he'll have the state's attention all the way to the Florida Supreme Court, if necessary. And more important, probably all the way to the 2018 election. It's a hey-voters-look-at-me opportunity for the man who would be governor of Florida.
It all started in May 2016 when Levine announced he would test a 2005 Florida law that bars cities from setting their own minimum wages. He wanted Miami Beach to require a minimum of $10.31 an hour in 2017, with a dollar increase per year until it reaches $13.31 in 2020. Florida's current rate is $8.05 an hour. A few weeks later, the city commission as a whole unanimously agreed to it.
Levine even shouted long distance at Gov. Scott, "I'll see you in court."
You go testing a law, invoking Scott's name and you automatically raise the ire of the governor and attorney general. That's the reality. And Scott and Pam Bondi have a posse when they believe fiscal responsibility is challenged: The Florida Retail Federation, Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association and the Florida Chamber of Commerce also filed a lawsuit in December challenging the Miami Beach ordinance. They said it is a direct violation of a 2013 law signed by the governor forbidding municipalities from assigning their own minimum wage.
Lo and behold, that's what Lopez wrote in his Tuesday ruling: "The city's wage ordinance is not valid under 218.077 Fla. Stat., which preempts local minimum wages."
Levine then issued an email to the Miami New Times: "While I am extremely disappointed in today's ruling against Florida families, we expected that this case would ultimately end up before the Florida Supreme Court. Our legal team is working on a swift appeal to ensure that the will of Floridians expressed through the 2004 state constitutional amendment on minimum wage is fully implemented."
Miami Beach lead counsel Robert Rosenwald has said the city will file an immediate appeal.
"The court simply got it wrong," Rosenwald said. He called the decision a "heartbreaking loss for all of us and for the people of the state of Florida but ultimately the policy of the people allowing higher local minimum wages will stand."
In February Miami Beach residents were complaining in emails and Facebook postings that Levine was using the minimum wage issue to raise his profile so he could run for governor -- and getting the City of Miami Beach to pay for it. They were convinced he wasn't running for another term as mayor because he couldn't win, that Miami Beach residents dislike his antics that much.
Probably the most prominent city resident to speak out on her unhappiness over Levine's leadership has been Miami Beach Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez.
Gonzalez told me, "He began the $1 billion Miami Beach Convention Center without getting voter approval for the hotel to go with it," she said. "Then, when he tried to get voters to approve it, his referendum failed. Now the residents don't trust us with anything ... (the convention center) might never be as useful as we'd hoped."
Miami Beach earned international attention for its ambitious, $400 million campaign to save the vulnerable oceanfront city from the ravages of rising tides and climate change. It included building dozens of pumping stations, raising roads and sea walls, and upgrading the stormwater system -- oh, yes, and in the process raising residents' stormwater fees by about $7 a month.
"What you may not realize is that about 30 percent of the money spent and work done raising roads and installing stormwater systems was done around the mayor's property," Gonzalez says. "Go look at the the corner of Alton and 10th Street (Levine's business location) and Sunset Harbour (where he owns commercial properties) and you'll see the work is done and the property is safe and dry. It's just so obvious."
But Gonzalez said the real reason she was speaking out was because the mayor wants taxpayers to pay for his lawsuit -- his opportunity to elevate his profile, nothing else. "He told Scott, 'See you in court,'" she said. "Now, I'm for raising the minimum wage, too, but this is about our mayor putting on a show to aid his campaign at the expense of every taxpayer in this city. We just can't have it."
The mayor insisted during a February City Commission meeting that residents knew there would be some expense in the legal challenge and they were OK with it. But so far, he said, the legal work had been handled mostly in-house, minimum expense to taxpayers.
Reach Nancy Smith at email@example.com or at 228-282-2423. Twitter: @NancyLBSmith