A question worth watching: is Jacksonville City Councilman Danny Becton on a collision course with Mayor Lenny Curry?
Certainly, there is reason to question whether the first-term Councilor is on the same page with the priorities and agenda of the Mayor.
Consider a bill that will be considered in Finance Wednesday morning: Becton’s 2017-348, which would require that 15 percent of all general fund money beyond the baseline FY 16-17 budget go toward defraying the city’s $2.8B unfunded actuarial liability on pension.
At a Monday public notice meeting discussing the bill, Becton revealed how far apart he was from the top Republican in the city on matters of budgeting and – just as importantly – presentation.
Becton asserted that the Lenny Curry administration, via CFO Mike Weinstein, had a “very favorable” read on the bill.
That account was disputed. Strenuously. By Mayor Curry.
“I don’t know where he got that. But that’s not the case,” Curry told us minutes after we published a piece on the meeting … while the meeting was still going on.
Curry demurred from addressing Becton’s other contentions, which included a comparison of his pension reform package to Chapter 11 Bankruptcy, and a description of the city’s pension-related spending habits as being like someone with a credit score of 500 or 600 paying the minimum on his credit card.
However, Curry did, via the Florida Times-Union, make a point that was hard to miss regarding his reform package: “It seems [Becton] needs to convince the majority of the council to see if they agree with him.”
Translation: good luck with that – especially given that many of Curry’s strongest relationships on Council are with Democrats.
After being informed of mayoral pushback, Becton amended his read to one of being told “they were not going to help me, but they were not going to come out against me.”
If that is the Councilman’s definition of favorability, one wonders what unfavorable looks like.
Those following this administration closely know its fiscal policy: a belief in low-interest rate, long-term loans for capital projects; pay-go wherever possible; and not obligating cash for the sake of obligating it.
Even when some Council members moved, months back, to boost the emergency reserve from 5 to 6 percent after noting favorable budget variances, cold water was splashed on that move.
Despite Curry and Becton both being Republicans, the most notable thing about that meeting Monday arguably was that no administration members sat at the table with the Councilors … but Bill Bishop, one key irritant to Mayor Curry, was in attendance.
Recall, if you will, the fractious nature of the 2015 mayoral campaign. Bishop was frustrated by lost endorsements, claiming that the machine lined up being Curry. And Bishop got his revenge after being eliminated from the mayoral race – crossing party lines to endorse Alvin Brown, and then campaigning heavily with Brown down the stretch, while neither Brown nor Bishop denied that the termed-out Councilman was in line for a key role in Brown’s second term.
Of course, Brown lost that election. But Curry – who once talked to his lawyer after a pre-endorsement conversation with Bishop, in which he claimed Bishop lobbied him for a job – doesn’t forget these things.
Bill Bishop being brought in for a policy meeting in Curry’s City Hall: one optical problem created Monday.
A second optical problem: for members of the Curry administration, Becton going rogue has to remind them of the pushback the Councilman offered during the amphitheater discussion over a year ago.
The city and Jaguars’ owner Shad Khan both ponied up $45M each for stadium improvements, including the new amphitheater and a covered practice field for the Jaguars.
While the deal was presented to Council, it was one of those deals that the mayor’s staff and Khan’s people had hashed out already.
Becton, by far, offered the most pushback, questioning the administration’s use of low-interest rate loans and noting that bed tax revenue barely covered the interest on the $43M Jacksonville had borrowed just two years prior for the world’s largest scoreboards.
All that pushback in committees was just theater, however. In the end, Becton caved.
Jags’ lobbyist Paul Harden talked to Becton, it turned out, though they couldn’t agree on how long the conversation was. Becton said it was half an hour and Harden sais it was 90 minutes.
Beyond that, both men basically agreed that the gist of the conversation was along the lines of “how can I flip your vote?”
The vote, of course, flipped. And one expects that, in the end, Becton will see the extra pension payment issue the way the folks in the mayor’s office did also.