Set back, victory for half-cent sales tax bill for schools

1 committee votes to withdraw bill, another passes referendum

By Jim Piggott - Reporter

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - The effort to put a half-cent sales tax that would benefit schools on a ballot for Duval County voters this year suffered a setback Tuesday but also claimed a victory.

The City Council Finance Committee voted 5-2 to withdraw the bill. That vote does not automatically kill the bill, but the full council usually follows the will of that committee.

Later Tuesday, the Rules Committee voted to pass the referendum, giving those in favor of putting the questions to voters sooner rather than later some hope.

There was a lot of finger-pointing Tuesday morning at the Finance Committee's meeting. Chairman of Finance Aaron Bowman said the school board just isn’t supplying the council with enough information about a timeline for construction and repairs of schools. 

He said it’s up to the City Council to watch how tax dollars are being spent.

“I would say we are doing our job,” Bowman said, adding that the council's role is spelled out in the city charter. “That is how we are the financial oversight of the county. We are doing exactly what we are supposed to do.”

Duval County School Board Vice Chairman Warren Jones disagreed.

“I think they just wanted to get it off their plate. All we are asking is to let the voters decide,” Jones said.

He said the council is taking this action for one reason.  

“We can’t allow politics to be injected in a plan that is based on need,” Jones said.   

The question of which elected body has the final say on when the measure could go before voters has yet to be decided.  

Both the School Board and the City Council are waiting on final word from the state’s Attorney General, who was asked to give an opinion on the issue.

The full council could consider whether to withdraw the bill next Tuesday at its regular meeting. 

If the bill is taken off the table, it could be introduced again with more information regarding a timeline, which is what some members of the finance committee are hoping will happen. 

Both sides agree it's too late to put the issue on the ballot this November, but the School Board is still hoping December could be an option. 

If the withdrawal is approved by the full council, more than likely, according to council members, the referendum would have to go on the ballot in 2020.

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