Jacksonville voters approve half-cent sales tax

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Duval County voters have strongly supported a half-cent sales tax to pay off the city's $2.7 billion pension deficit.

With nearly 100 percent of the votes cast in Tuesday's referendum, 65 percent of voters voted for the tax. 

Duval County Referendum No. 1, designed by Mayor Lenny Curry, proposes a 30-year half-cent tax to begin in 2030, when the existing half-cent tax paying for city construction projects expires. 

Curry said Tuesday was a historic day for the city of Jacksonville.

"This is a celebration for the people of Jacksonville, for the generations to come. We are on the verge of completely freeing the city of the pension debt -- just a strain on our budget and our ability to do things over the years. Me saying I'm not celebrating tonight is because I expected to win tonight. I expected to be in the zone because that's my job. I'm going to move on and continue to do my job and fight for the people of Jacksonville," Curry said. 

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 address the city's pension deficit.

The mayor said he still has to negotiate with the unions, but hopes that will be done in the fall. 

"We got to get together. We got to bargain the closing of the pension plans. I am confident. We're going to get into the negotiations in the fall. My goal I would love to have it done by the end of the year or shortly there after," Curry said.

A group opposed to the plan filed a lawsuit against the amendment, saying the language in the referendum is just too confusing, and voters wouldn't know what the amendment means.

Here's the official language that appeared 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?"

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