JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A referendum on a proposed half-cent sales tax to fund repairs and replacements of Jacksonville’s aging schools looks like it won't happen this fall, as the Duval County School Board had requested. In fact, school leadership left the second of Tuesday's City Council committee meetings with no assurance it will ever appear before voters.
First up, the Finance Committee reviewed the bill, passed the resolution to hold a referendum on the sales tax but with an amendment proposed by Councilwoman Joyce Morgan that would delay the vote until the general election in 2020.
Mayor Lenny Curry is on the record supporting the delay. Others have expressed concern about the cost of running an election this year and potential for low turnout if the referendum was the only thing on the ballot.
Warren Jones, a former councilman who is the current vice chairman of the school board, told the committee the school district will lose precious time to begin fixing the county's schools if the vote is postponed until late in 2020.
Councilwoman Lori Boyer made a motion that would have deferred the matter until next month, when a new council year begins and seven members will take office, but it was defeated.
The amended resolution passed 7-0.
Tuesday afternoon, the Rule Committee voted 5-2 to defer the legislation, which means the full council will likely not consider the bill next Tuesday -- its final meeting before the new council members are seated.
Many school leaders and supporters who attended Tuesday's committee meetings -- including Superintendent Diana Greene and School Board Chairwoman Lori Hershey -- were feeling hopeful after the Finance Committee advanced the bill forward, even if the vote took place later than they had originally hoped. Then they were disappointed later in the day when the Rules Committee didn't advance the legislation.
"Our goal all along has been to let the people in Jacksonville decide," Hershey said. "Let’s face it, we are a great republic here in America. Voting is a right and a privilege."
If the full council eventually agrees to put the measure on the ballot, regardless of when that would be, voters in Jacksonville will have the final say about whether to add a half-cent sales tax in Jacksonville that would generate an estimated $1.2 billion over 15 years to fund repairs, reconstruction and consolidation for aging Duval County public schools.