Councilman Danny Becton‘s bill (2017-348) obligating the city of Jacksonville to earmark 15 percent of all budget increases to paying down pension debt until 2031 has not met favor with Mayor Lenny Curry.
It did no better in the Jacksonville City Council Finance Committee … where it was panned by most members before the bill was “put out of its misery” — to use Becton’s words.
The bill went down 4-1, with Council President-Designate Anna Brosche, chair of Finance, the only yes vote.
Becton, who compared the city’s historic pension reform package that he voted for to Chapter 11 bankruptcy, pushed the bill in an inconclusive meeting with Councilors Monday.
That was a dress rehearsal, however. Wednesday’s Finance meeting was the real deal, and a measure of whether Becton’s calls for more money for pension obligations was any match at all for the political capital Mayor Curry brings to the table.
Becton, a visitor to the committee, contended that “this bill picks up from … the historic pension reform bills we passed a month ago.”
“I look at those [pension reform] bills as the cake that we made, and this is the icing on the cake,” Becton said.
Becton hit the expected points, including his contention that the Curry pension reform kicks the majority of debt to future generations (via the 1/2 cent sales tax that kicks in in 2030), and his belief that the city’s credit rating will be imperiled if his bill does not pass.
Without his bill, Becton contended, the city is essentially making “minimum payments” on its “credit card” that is the $2.8B unfunded actuarial liability.
“The specifics of this bill is to use 15 percent, and that would leave 85 percent for the city,” Becton continued. “If revenue declines, so would the percent decline of this payment.”
Becton’s math says the city could save $571M over the course of his plan, when compounded interest is included.
Councilors had concerns, and it was soon clear the bill was leaving Council Chambers in a body bag.
Bill Gulliford ruled out support, especially in light of the homestead exemption referendum that could decrease the city’s ad valorem revenues, and in light of the 1/2 cent sales tax being “strictly limited” to the unfunded liability.
“We got the best deal out of the Legislature we could possibly get,” Gulliford said, advising Becton to introduce this during the budget process, rather than at the end of a fiscal year in a standalone bill.
Matt Schellenberg also ruled out support for the measure, urging catching up on quality of life issues, which have been neglected for years.
Aaron Bowman concurred, noting “serious infrastructure and safety concerns,” the Shipyards project, dredging, and other big-ticket items.
Katrina Brown joined the chorus.
“Most Americans and citizens I run across look at tangible stuff they can see,” Brown said, advising the city focus on “a lot of catching up to do.”
Becton found the comments from the committee “disappointing but not surprising,” given the bill “made too much common sense.”
A future generation, Becton said, will “look at this day and wonder what kind of decisions they made for us.”
“There will always be another reason to spend every dime that comes in here and ignore the debt that lays before us,” a visibly wounded Becton said.
After the down vote, we attempted to ask Becton if the mayor’s office killed his bill.
Red-faced, in retreat, Becton refused comment.
We asked Brosche, who was at Monday’s noticed meeting, her thoughts on the vote.
She “didn’t expect as much resistance as there was today,” she told us. However, not all Finance Committee members showed to the noticed meeting, she added.
And if there was pressure from the Mayor’s Office to vote against the bill, it never reached her, Brosche added.
In the end, Curry said it was up to Becton to convince the City Council.
And Becton couldn’t get the bill through one committee.