JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Jacksonville's pension problem is now in the hands of voters.
The City Council gave its stamp of approval Tuesday night to a plan that will let voters decide if sales tax money should be used to pay off Jacksonville’s pension mess.
Now the real fight begins for Mayor Lenny Curry, who first proposed the half-cent sales tax solution.
His job now is convincing Jacksonville voters that the tax is the best way to pay down more than $2 billion in pension debt that the city is carrying.
The council on Tuesday night unanimously approved placing the plan on the August primary ballot.
Council members discussed the plan and said they don't see any alternative at this point.
Curry said he believes that the sales tax is a much better solution than raising property taxes.
He said City Hall repairs and similar projects could be in jeopardy if the city can’t collect more money to pay off the nearly $2.7 billion pension deficit.
The half-cent sales tax would begin in 2030 and end in 2060. It would replace the Better Jacksonville Tax, which is set to expire in 2030.
The work to convince voters to approve the tax will be hard, council members said.
Many voters -- 40 percent -- don’t understand or weren't aware of the plan to solve the pension problem, according to a recent poll by the University of North Florida.
That percentage could be enough to sway the vote in August.
“I am encouraged (by the UNF poll),” Curry said. “I've got to go out and make the case. People are willing to listen. When I started my campaign for mayor, nobody knew who I was. People were open to hearing what my ideas and priorities were. I was able to make the case then, and I believe I can make the case now.”
The mayor has brought in some political heavyweights, including former Sheriff Nat Glover and well-connected political pundit Susie Wiles, to help sell the plan.
They will meet with groups first and then will create a blitz of commercials.
“We will be asking the voters to solve the problem once and for all that has been nagging our city for decades,” Wiles said.
Wiles was involved with Mayor John Delaney in 2000 when he was pushing the Better Jacksonville Plan, which used a half-cent sales tax to build more roads, a library, a ballpark and the new courthouse.
She said that campaign was different, because voters saw something in return for the tax. The result of this tax is something that voters really can’t see, and many people don’t understand how it will solve the pension problem, she said.
“Keep in mind, Duval County voters will not pay one more cent than they pay today, so it's not a new tax for anybody,” Wiles said. “And what it allows us to do step by step, methodically, is to address a problem that has become a big stain on how our city is able to do its job.”
Representatives from Concerned Taxpayers of Duval County said the group plans to voice its opposition to the tax.