Miami Beach Shooting for Perfect Score in HRC’s Municipal Equity Index

The city of Miami Beach made history when the commission unanimously passed the strongest tax equity benefit ordinance in the country last week.

Under the new legislation, employees who have domestic partners on their health insurance will no longer be subjected to having their benefits be taxed as income, drawing out more than $1,000 a year from their paycheck. This includes both gay and straight couples.

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“A $1,000 impact can be a huge impact when people are struggling to make their mortgage payment, their car payment, put food on the table and pay their expenses. To me, regardless of the dollar amount, it’s the message that it sends. It sends a message that somehow being in a domestic partner relationship is less than being in a married relationship because you weren’t receiving the same net benefit,” said Commissioner Michael Gongora, who sponsored the legislation.

The issue was brought forward by Thomas Barker about a year ago.

As then-vice chair of the city’s LGBT Business Enhancement Committee (Barker is now the chair), he read about universities and corporations passing equal tax benefit ordinances to ensure that their employees with domestic partners weren’t being double taxed for not being married. That got him and his partner, Rob Rosenwald, the Miami Beach senior assistant city attorney, curious.

“We looked at Rob’s paycheck and looked to see what was being actually taxed and realized that it was absolutely unfair,” Barker said when they discovered more than $3,000 was being taxed out of Rosenwald’s paycheck.

“It’s not such a significant amount over a 12-month period that’s shocking. For me, it’s more of the fact that it is an obvious form of discrimination when we have to pay more to be in a relationship.”

Barker brought the item up to the committee and with research found that 19 other employees were also experiencing the same inequity. The issue was brought forward to the Miami Beach City Commission, sponsored by the city’s first openly gay elected official, Commissioner Michael Gongora, and over the next year Equality Florida drafted the ordinance with the city, including Rosenwald.

On June 4, the commission unanimously passed the ordinance.

“I’m pleased to be able to work for a city as progressive as Miami Beach,” said Rosenwald, who previously worked for the ACLU doing gay rights litigation. “Being able to devote such a large part of my day to making sure that our city is the leader in the state as far as progressive legislation of all types, including LGBT, is incredibly meaningful to me and makes my job much more fulfilling.”

Also, it is helping the city toward a larger goal: Being the first city in Florida to get a 100 percent rating on the Human Rights Campaign’s municipal equity index. The campaign ranks cities according to different standards met for its LGBT residents, and the tax equity benefits ordinance puts it one step closer, Rosenwald said.

Currently, the city is not eligible for a rating, Paul Guequierre of the HRC said. Cities included are the 50 capitals, 50 most populous cities, and 75 cities with a high proportion of same-sex couples.

However, the HRC is always looking to expand, Guequierre said.

“Of all of the things that we have done as a committee, this has probably been the most impactful and probably the most historical in the sense of that this is the strongest policy in the country right now and it will be the model for other municipalities to follow when they are looking to build or create their own equal tax benefits ordinance,” Barker said.Christiana Lilly