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Pension reform legislation introduced to Jacksonville City Council

Tuesday night saw a raft of bills introduced to the Jacksonville City Council, with the expected final result being implementation of comprehensive pension reform.

While the mayor’s office negotiated pension reform, it is up to the 19-person legislative body to enact it.

Bill 2017-257 would, if passed by the council, levy the 1/2 cent discretionary sales tax approved by voters via referendum in August.

The tax would take effect when the Better Jacksonville Plan obligation is paid off, or in 2031, whichever comes first.

2017-257 creates a new ordinance section:  Chapter 776 (Pension Liability Surtax).

Bill 2017-258 affects the general employees and correctional worker plans, closing the extant defined benefit plans to those hired after Oct. 1, 2017, and committing the city to a 12 percent contribution for those general employees and a 25 percent contribution for correctional officers hired after October.

That bill requires the city to meet certain liquidity targets for the defined benefit plan, mandating additional contributions if that target isn’t met, though those targets aren’t defined in the legislation as introduced.

As well, the bill maintains a “ten-year agreement,” of sorts, able to be revisited on a bilateral basis three years, six years, and nine years after implementation.

Bill 2017-259 implements revisions to the Police and Fire & Rescue plans.

Post-October hires will get a 25 percent match from the city on their defined contribution plans.

Raises for workers throughout the city will be part of the pension reform package, with the most generous raises going to police and fire, then corrections, then general employees.

Pension reform has been a priority of Mayor Lenny Curry, who spent 2016 selling the idea of a dedicated sales surtax to pay off the city’s $2.7B unfunded liability in Tallahassee, then used his political capital and machine to score a stunning 65 percent margin in favor of the plan in an August referendum.

Though negotiations were not without their quotable moments, Curry’s team, helmed by CAO Sam Mousa and CFO Mike Weinstein, was able to overcome objections and get key agreements with even the public safety unions early enough in March to where this financial security may be apparent as soon as the next fiscal year.

As locals know by now, the current defined benefit plans have to be closed to new hires, who will get defined contribution plans — that have as much as a 25 percent employer match for public safety employees.

Questions remain among the council about the specifics of the plans. Curry has been talking with them one on one about the conceptual framework of the plan, he told us Tuesday.

“Meetings with council members — we’re talking conceptually, big-picture. It’s important that we lay the information out so they can make a responsible decision. They’re all getting that information together.”

“In the weeks ahead, in a big, public, transparent workshop,” Curry continued, “we’ll be laying all of this out.”

“I would remind you that all of the collective bargaining, all of the agreements that have been reached, were done in the sunshine — transparent for the public to see.”

That workshop, slated for Apr. 6, will “lay out the budget impact and the actuarial impact … everything that council needs to make a decision will be laid out for them publicly and you’ll all have that information available for you,” he told the press Tuesday

Council members have already met to discuss the schematics of pension reform, with a 90 minute historical overview of pension from General Counsel Jason Gabriel on Monday.

Written By

A.G. Gancarski has been a working journalist for over two decades, with bylines in national and local publications alike on subjects ranging from pop music to national and global politics. Gancarski has been a correspondent for FloridaPolitics.com since 2014, and has held a column in Jacksonville, Florida's Folio Weekly for two decades. In 2018, he was a finalist for an Association of Alternative Newsweeklies "best political column." Gancarski is a frequent presence on Jacksonville television and radio, including fill-in slots on WJCT-FM's award-winning talk show "First Coast Connect." He can be reached at a.g.gancarski@gmail.com.

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