Mayor continues push for half-cent sales tax

Opponent to tax to fund pension plan calls ballot language confusing


JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Mayor Lenny Curry told downtown business leaders Tuesday that if the half-cent sales tax to fund Jacksonville's $2.7 billion pension deficit isn't approved by the voters in next month's primary, the city will be in dire straits.

Monday, Curry and Sheriff Mike Williams strongly denounced a citizen's task force that recommended a property tax increase in addition to the sales tax to adequately fund the Sheriff's Office.

The referendum for the half-cent tax to begin in 2030 when the current tax funding the Better Jacksonville Plan expires, was authorized by the Florida Legislator and Jacksonville City Council to appear on the Aug. 30 primary for all Duval County voters.

The tax could solely be used to pay off the pension liability and would end when the debt is paid off, but not last beyond 2060.

The proposal also calls for some or all of the city's current pension plans to be closed and/or changed to require employees to contribute a minimum of 10 percent of their salary -- provisions that are not yet negotiated with the unions representing those employees.

Here's the official language that will appear on the ballot:

Permanently closing up to three of the City’s underfunded defined benefit retirement plans, increasing the employee contribution for those plans to a minimum of 10%, and ending the Better Jacksonville ½-cent sales tax are all required to adopt a ½-cent sales tax solely dedicated to reducing the City’s unfunded pension liability.  Shall such pension liability sales tax, which ends upon elimination of the unfunded pension liability or in 30 years maximum, be adopted?"

The wording of the referendum has been criticized as being confusing.

"Florida statute say it has to clear, unambiguous," said pension tax opponent John Winkler of Concerned Taxpayers of Duval County.  "We have issues both with it factually and with just the sheer confusing nature of what is written there."

Curry disagrees, saying the ballot language is easy to understand.

"The language clearly lays out that we will be closing the pension plans that caused this and we will be taking a half-penny sales tax that is legally obligated to fund pension liability," Curry said.

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