JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – City leaders are anxiously awaiting Gov. Rick Scott's signature on a bill that will allow Jacksonville to use a half-cent sales tax that currently pays for road and building projects to fund employee pension plans.
The bill passed the Florida Senate on the next-to-last day of the 60-day legislative session. The governor has until the end of next week to sign the it. The plan must then pass city council and be approved by voters in a referendum on either the August or November ballot.
The bill allows the city to extend the Better Jacksonville tax approved by voters in 2000 beyond 2030, when it was scheduled to end, and to use the revenue to pay off a deficit of over $2 billion for the Police and Fire Pension Fund and the city's two other employee pension funds.
On Wednesday, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry said he is confident the governor will sign the bill and council will support putting it on the ballot. Curry added that he will have no trouble selling the plan to the voters.
"Here is the reality. It is not a new tax. There is no additional tax on the taxpayer. It's a half-cent that is already being paid," Curry said.
The city is currently paying $260 million each year in pension payments, and the amount is increasing. Mayor Lenny Curry said that by applying the sales tax revenue, the annual payment coming from the annual budget could be cut in half.
"What that means to taxpayers (is that) general fund dollars will now be available to put more police officers on the street (and pay for) roads and infrastructure," Curry said.
Not everyone is on board with the plan. The head of Duval County Concerned Taxpayers, John Winkler, said he is not sure if this is the way to go because this new or extended tax does not begin for years, so we are passing the buck of unfunded pension debt to the next generation.
"I think this community, like every other community, depending on the way in which something is presented and sold, runs the distinct possibility of doing things that are ultimately not in their (citizens') best interest," Winkler said.