Proposed legislation renews old issue: Could JEA be sold?

HB 1331, SB 1380 would limit amount of money publicly-owned utilities could give to city governments

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The new JEA building is up and running, but the question of if the electric company is going to be sold still looms.

More specifically, House Bill 1331 and Senate Bill 1380 are being considered in the Florida Legislature in Tallahassee and would limit the amount of money publicly-owned utilities like JEA could give to city governments.

JEA’s contribution to Jacksonville’s general fund this year is over $122 million, and that money goes toward the city’s day-to-day operations.

Now, some city council members question what’s the point of having a public utility if the city does not receive any financial benefit.

Jacksonville City Councilman Matt Carlucci said the legislation would pave the way to sell public utilities like JEA.

“I’m just over it. The JEA belongs to citizens and the ratepayers of Jacksonville, not a handful of legislators over in Tallahassee where we can’t see what they’re doing or their deliberations,” Carlucci said.

As of yet, nothing has passed, but the proposed legislation keeps changing.

JEA CEO Jay Stowe ensured there isn’t a sale.

“First of all, JEA is not for sale,” Stowe said. “I appreciate the council members who have spoken out and said this is a concern. Our community a few years ago spoke out aggressively against the sale of JEA. Our team’s members have continued to do a good job every day. So, I don’t think that’s really in the cards, and we’re going to keep on doing what we can for Northeast Florida. But I appreciate their support.”

Local lawmakers like state Rep. Dean Black and Mayor Lenny Curry’s office are not ready to comment on the issue because the legislation keeps changing.

News4JAX political analyst Rick Mullaney of Jacksonville University’s Public Policy Institute, however, said it’s important to keep a close eye on what is happening.

“It’s really speculation to say whether any of this legislation was intended to foster a sale, but depending on how it passes, or what goes through the legislature, it could make a sale more favorable. So, you have to watch the legislation very carefully,” Mullaney said.

He also said it is hard to predict the legislation’s impact.

“If your asset is not able to make that contribution, you could have that discussion on rates, but you could also have a discussion as to whether or not a sale might make more sense,” Mullaney said.

Starting next week, JEO officials will start moving into the newly built headquarters, where the next JEA board meeting will take place on Tuesday. It’s believed that this legislation or the possibility of its passing will be a topic of discussion.

Rep. Clay Yarborough, R-Jacksonville, sent a statement to News4JAX about the legislation:

“I communicated concerns to the Senate sponsor of SB 1380. The House version of the bill, HB 1331, was recently amended and appears to alleviate the main concerns, but legal staff is still reviewing. If JEA and its hardworking employees are put at risk, I will strongly push for defeat of the bills.”

About the Author:

Jim Piggott is the reporter to count on when it comes to city government and how it will affect the community.