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Pension Reform Task Force recommends taxation

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Mayor Alvin Brown’s Pension Reform Task Force will recommend that the Jacksonville City Council vote to enact a Sales Tax or support a referendum to levy a 1.5 mil property tax. Either one of these would raise $68 million. Their actions are designed to fill a $1.7 billion hole in the budget in order to fulfill the city’s obligation to the Police and Firemen’s Pension Fund.

The Task Force’s action completely ignored Brown’s recommendation that the budget hole be filled by taking $40 million a year more from the Jacksonville Electric Authority. If the recommendation by the Task Force stands in a final vote, it will once again put the Mayor on the sidelines in his efforts to put forth a budget that the City Council will accept.

A poll taken last week by the University of North Florida indicates that 73 percent of registered voters disapprove of taking any funds from the JEA. That same poll indicates that 56 per cent of those polled would not favor a property tax increase of any kind.

Referendums require a campaign. Campaigns require a committee. Campaign Committees require people and someone to lead that campaign. Campaigns also require money. Who would contribute to such a campaign that would be waged for the sole purpose of urging taxpayers to levy a tax on themselves that would not improve schools, not decrease crime and not fill a pothole? The vote would need to take place in November of this year.

The actions by the Task Force also render the public embarrassment of City Finance Director Ronnie Belton all for naught. It also means another embarrassment for the Mayor who has just lost 10 points in his public approval rating. Public opinion points that will continue to slide in the coming months unless Brown and his team can persuade a Republican dominated City Council that their way is the best way forward on Pension Reform.

Mayor Brown’s JEA proposal came too late in the deliberations of the Task Force for serious consideration. After months of reviewing financial documents, debate over exactly how much is needed and where the money would come from, the Task Force led by Attorney Bill Sheu and City Councilman Gregory Anderson, were simply not in the mood to review or negotiate a plan that requires political maneuvering and more actuarial analysis.

This is not to say that the Mayor’s idea is not a good one. It is to say that the Mayor’s plan is politically untenable given the fact that the city is one year out from a reelection campaign where he faces republican opposition to any proposal that will make him look good.

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