Then blind and other severely handicapped citizens appealed to the Dade County Commission this week to continue the special van service that enables them to get to work and move around the city, they were jeered by irate taxpayers threatening revolt.
When a mother urged restoration of a juvenile delinquency program that had helped her child, a man in the audience hooted, "Take care of your own kids!"
And when a woman addressed the commission in Spanish, a contingent in the rancorous crowd broke into "God Bless America."
"Speak English!" they cried.
The commission could not provide a translator, because voters last year outlawed tax money for bilingual services.
In its first response to the Reagan administration's "New Federalism" this week, the Dade County Commission slashed social programs rather than picking up the tab locally for programs no longer financed by the federal government.
The initial news from Washington was to expect $19.6 million less in federal aid. Consequently, budget cuts for 1981-82 will force the closing of the only free Legal Aid office for 14,000 elderly poor in Miami Beach, layoffs of up to 1,700 county workers and termination of most county drug rehabilitation programs.
The county's only public hospital fears it may have to deny admission to 3,000 Medicaid patients and stop free eyeglasses and take-home drugs for the poor. More than 47,000 former public health service recipients will receive little or no aid. About 800 low-income working parents will lose day care for their children. Air and water quality testing will be severely curtailed, and consumer protection officials will stop investigating individual complaints.
"We need our rides," said Fred Baron, who is blind and gets around on wooden legs, as he pleaded for the special transportation program for the disabled. "We can't be prisoners in our homes. We want to be useful citizens."
The mood was against him. Two out of five rides will be cut for the 3,400 disabled residents who use the county-subsidized service each week.
"This is the first of what we understand to be three more years of federal cuts," said Commissioner Ruth Shack. "The idea is to absorb the hurt, but we can't."
Fiscal austerity also meant that the county commissioners would not take on programs for which they were never responsible. Without extra federal money, the local Department of Housing and Urban Development, which has never been funded locally, may go broke. It provides housing for 35,000 poor people.
"Local governments are just beginning to see more clearly the impact of federal budget cuts," said Bill Brown, a county budget analyst.
While property tax rates for the 1.6 million Dade County residents are not high compared with those of many communities, tax revolt fever here has made it clear that most citizens are not willing to pay for social programs once funded by the federal government.
"People like me who earn $200 a week or less are sick and tired of paying for these 'recipients,' " protested one tax rebel to the commission.
And there is little evidence of the private sector's willingness to take up the slack. When Washington announced earlier this year that the local Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA) budget would be sliced from $70 to $19 million as of Oct. 1, the agency undertook a vigorous effort to find jobs for the first 2,650 of the 17,000 trainees to be laid off. Only 100 CETA workers were hired by business.
"The private sector is not willing to hire dropouts, minorities and unskilled workers," said Bill Urbizu, a CETA spokesman.
However, the present problem for the county administration is declining income.
When County Manager Merrett Stierheim recommended a 1981-82 general program budget of $306.6 million to offset a $75 million shortfall in city revenues because of federal revenue cuts, inflation and what he called necessary expansion, he was stopped by the commissioners. His plan would have raised property taxes 34 percent.
"Enough is enough," said Commissioner Barry Schreiber. "The middle-class property owner is being pushed as far as he can go."
The commission had gotten the tax-protest message when a uniform readjustment of property taxes to 100 percent of assessed value sent tax bills up an average of 55 percent in the county last year.
They further understood their predicament when Reagan swept traditionally liberal Democratic Dade County last year by a 50,000-vote margin and when Florida legislators, including some from Dade County, refused to back a 1-cent hike in the statewide sales tax.
Although property taxes have increased 37 percent since 1977, the current revenue is equal only to that received in 1969 because of inflation.
Meanwhile, Dade County agencies have been saddled with millions of dollars in services for Cuban and Haitian refugees with only limited federal assistance. The latest word from Washington is that $29 million in health and welfare benefits for Dade refugees will be eliminated.
To supplement Florida's modest health programs, the county has poured dollars into health care over the years. Today 27 cents of every property tax dollar pays for health costs of indigents.
About one fourth of the births at the public hospital are children of refugees. In a recurring case of overcrowding this month, 35 of the hospital's 101 new mothers were camped in hallways, their babies atop makeshift cots and stretchers.
"Cut taxes, expenditures and giveaways," said Jack Waddell, an insurance agent, to the commission. "Give the middle class a chance to breathe again."
The solution for 1981-82 is an adopted $288 million spending plan that rolls back combined taxes to $9.22 for each $1,000 of assessed value. That is a boost of 12.6 percent in the average tax bill, because assessments are still rising. Miami's typical resident will pay about $1,100.
"The essence of what is happening is greater reliance on the family, the neighborhood, the community--and on the self," Schreiber said.