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Pension tax critics rally on eve of election

Duval County voters face half-cent sales tax referendum on primary ballot

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – As Mayor Lenny Curry, architect of the proposal to levy a half-cent sales tax to pay down the city's $2.7 billion pension deficit, voted Sunday for the referendum Sunday, a group opposed to the tax held a rally encouraging voters to turn down the plan.

While the number of people at the Just Vote No rally at Hemming Park was small, they said their dedication to defeat County Referendum 1 is big. They believe the proposed sales tax is a burden on the children and grandchildren of Jacksonville because it would run until 2060, long after many those who will vote on the plan have died or moved away.

“The mayor has got the cart in front of the horse. He is addressing this problem in a totally backward way," said John Winkler, president of Concerned Taxpayers of Duval County. “This is a tax that will fall squarely on the next generation and the generation after that -- generations that don’t even have a name yet. It’s not going to be for something that we pay for ourselves.”

The Vote No group has filed a lawsuit saying the amendment should be voided because the wording on the ballot is too confusing, but a judge won't hold hearings on the challenge until after the election.

After voting Sunday -- the final day of early voting in Duval County -- Curry said this is the only alternative to pay off the debt.

“I'm the one solving this so our children won't have to deal with this," Curry said. "The critics don't have an answer. All they want is debate, discussions and task forces. I put myself out there and said I have a comprehensive solution that will put this problem behind us. I believe people will follow me down this road to the solution.”

Curry said the tax, along with closure of the city's three existing pension plans and requiring existing employees to pay 10 percent toward their own retirement, will pay off the deficit.

A University of North Florida's Public Opinion Research Laboratory poll released last week showed 51 percent of likely voters support the plan, and that support has grown over the summer.

The poll showed men support the tax more than women, white voters are more in favor of it than blacks, and more Republicans support it than Democrats.

The poll asked 607 likely voters: "Do you support or oppose the referendum to be presented to Jacksonville voters in the August 30 primary election that reads: 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 percent and ending the Better Jacksonville half-cent sales tax are all required to adopt a half-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?”