The critics wanted the mayor to debate them on the pension tax referendum. And on Monday afternoon they got their wish.
The agenda at the Jacksonville Rotary Club included two opponents of Jacksonville’s County Referendum 1, which would (if passed Aug. 30) allow for the extension of the current half-cent infrastructure tax past 2030 (when it currently is supposed to sunset) and its subsequent dedication to addressing the city’s $2.8 billion unfunded pension liability.
Not on the agenda, but there to offer counterargument: Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry.
The first opponent of the referendum, John Winkler of the Concerned Taxpayers of Duval County, took issue with the language of the ballot referendum, calling it “virtually incomprehensible” compared to the language required by statute in insurance policies.
Winkler objects to that, and also takes issue with the Jacksonville City Council approving the ballot measure before the state statute went into effect July 1. He believes that for the council to have been consistent with the statute, it would have had to approve the measure for the November ballot.
The second opponent of the measure, Tom Majdanics, is best known for his work with the local KIPP Charter School.
Majdanics argued for an aggressive sort of pension reform that seemed divorced from political reality, talking about how the “new tax” protects the “status quo” of “solid gold” pensions that see an average retired first responder collecting $4 million and the total liability pushed up to $652 million per annum by FY 2037.
“Total reform,” said Madjanics, is the answer, as he described Curry’s plan as “all tax, no reform” and similar to an “interest-only mortgage.”
Curry got a rebuttal in after the Winkler and Majdanics’ presentations, and he was blunt.
“The ideas you saw are purely academic,” Curry said, noting the unsustainability of the unfunded pension liability.
Curry also noted that moves toward reform were made, both in the Peyton administration and before he came into office last summer, before reminding Madjanics that city government is “not like the private sector.”
New terms can’t be imposed on public sector unions, Curry said; “you end up with an impasse.”
“I can shoot holes in these numbers all day,” Curry said, emphatically addressing the sedate Rotary crowd.
After the event, Curry expanded his critiques of Majdanics’ presentation, calling it “inconsistent” and saying that the aforementioned impasse could last up to seven years.
“His suggestion is an academic one,” Curry said, heedless of the “hard reality” of collective bargaining, which requires a solution agreeable to both management and labor.
And regarding the Winkler critique of the ballot language, Curry said he thinks it’s “clear if you slow down and read it,” adding that “the ballot language was done the right way.”
“The drumbeat out of the critics,” Curry said, is a desire to “raise your property taxes.”