Lenny Curry Archives - Florida Politics

Jacksonville City Council passes pension reform legislation

The real work was done over the past weeks and months. But the ceremony, the cameras, the victory lap were all reserved for Monday afternoon, when the Jacksonville City Council officially passed 14 bills that equate to pension reform.

The “committee of the whole” vote – held Wednesday – was the dispositive one.

In that meeting, which lasted over three hours, the Jacksonville City Council worked through the last few rounds of questions and concerns it might have had over the pension agreements.

Those questions and concerns, really, were moot points.

The city can’t afford not to make the deal – not facing an untenable $360M pension hit next year on a $2.8B unfunded actuarial liability.

With pension reform closing current pension plans and backing up the repayment with the future assets from a 1/2 cent sales tax, the pension hit in FY 2018 is $218M; if reform fails, the hit is $360M (up from $290M next year).

As CFO Mike Weinstein has said of late, the savings add up to “$1.4B less out of the general fund over the next 15 years,” and “without that revenue” from the half-cent sales tax, the city would have “difficulty matching revenue to expenses.”

So that’s the reality.

Three bills ultimately are the most newsworthy.

2017-257 establishes the half-cent sales tax extension. 2017-258 changes pension plans for general employees and correctional workers. And 2017-259 changes plans for police and fire.

The city will offer 25 percent matches for defined contribution plans for police, fire, and correctional workers; for general employees, the match is 12 percent.

The other eleven bills ratified collective bargaining agreements between the city and JEA and various unions.

Jacksonville Bold for 4.21.17 — Political capital, boldfaced

Is there a politician in Florida right now on more of a hot streak than Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry?

This issue of Bold tells the tale.

Curry’s pension reform appears to be on a glide path toward ratification — a major accomplishment.

His moves toward downtown revitalization have a major shot in the arm, with Shad Khan getting the green light to go forward with Shipyards redevelopment.

And he is still in the CFO discussion — bigly.

It is a political season where everyone in Tallahassee looks a bit more diminished with each passing news cycle.

Yet, Curry — vilified as a “party boss” during the campaign two years ago — is looking like the embodiment of leadership.

At 70 percent in an internal poll (and above 60 percent of Democrats), the question has to be raised: Is Jacksonville enough for Curry, or is it time for him to make a play for something statewide?

Pension reform a done deal … almost

It appears that the long and winding path toward comprehensive pension reform in Jacksonville has all but completed after the Jacksonville City Council “committee of the whole” voted to recommend 14 pension reform bills to the full Council Monday.

Lenny Curry sells pension reform to the press corps.

What this means: all that’s left for the body to do is vote once more for the bills they approved in committee.

Of the bills, 11 ratify collective bargaining agreements. One authorizes the ½ penny sales tax extension, which provides actuarial certainty that there will be money to pay down and eventually pay off the city’s $2.8B unfunded pension liability. And two more bills reconfigure the city’s retirement plans.

Existing defined benefit pension plans will close to new entrants. Hires after Oct. 1 will enter defined contribution plans.

Done deal — and maybe the biggest accomplishment of Curry’s political career.

Thus far …

Curry visits Tallahassee, not lobbying for CFO

Curry made his way to Tallahassee this week … but not to buck for the CFO slot.

Curry, who is at 70 percent in a recent internal poll conducted by his political committee, was there advocating for a friend and CEO of a Jacksonville company, reports Tia Mitchell.

“Curry introduced APR Energy Chair and Chief Executive John Campion to Scott and explained the company’s issues, which have tied up $44 million and could cost even more. He asked Scott to reach out to President Donald Trump in hopes of that the president can help bring the yearslong case to resolution,” Mitchell writes.

Lenny Curry, always emphatic.

Turbines owned by APR were rented by an Australian company that went bankrupt, frustrating attempts to retrieve the equipment.

Curry, meanwhile, is willing to have a “conversation” about the CFO position, he told Mitchell.

Does Jacksonville need block grants?

Does the city of Jacksonville need Community Development Block Grants? As an urban city with all kinds of legacy problems, one would think the federal money would come in handy.

But getting Curry to take a position on CDBGs has been a slog.

The city kicked off the beginning of a week of events designed to call attention to the utility of CDBGs with a mayoral proclamation — but with no one authorized to deliver it.

Mayor’s Office MIA at CDBG event, raises questions for one councilman.

TV was there — no worries, they didn’t notice. But there is a school of thought that Curry’s reticence is related to the desire of President Trump to zero out these grants — weekend travel to one’s private clubs isn’t cheap.

Curry’s spokesperson, Marsha Oliver, projected agnosticism on the issue on behalf of her boss.

“As long as the program exists and funds are available, we will utilize them,” Oliver said.

Oliver stressed that the mayor was not taking a position on whether the program should or shouldn’t be in existence; however, as budget discussions loom, Curry’s financial team likely will have to factor in the current uncertainty from the White House.

Aaron Bean is lobbying for CFO

Sen Bean — already filed for re-election to the Senate — is in the mix for the CFO opening that will be created soon.

“My name is in the hat for CFO,” Bean said. He has met with Gov. Rick Scott, who said he would announce the process for selection “after Session ends.”

Bean’s high-five game is on fleek, but will that get him CFO?

Bean is part of a crowded field of candidates, which includes Curry and Pat Neal, who has been touted by statewide political media as a strong candidate for the caretaker role.

Trouble for Paul Renner?

Rep. Renner has made no secret of his desire to be House Speaker in 2022 — and that may be a dealbreaker.

A week after POLITICO Florida reported Renner discussed his speaker’s bid with House Republicans — violating prohibitions against campaigning for the slot — new draft rules may knock him out of the running.

Paul Renner’s back may be against the wall in Speaker race.

Peter Schorsch lays it out.

“According to the latest version of the rules, a caucus member would be ineligible to be nominated if the House Speaker declares the member in violation of House Republican Conference Rules,” Schorsch writes.

Adopted last year, those rules state a “candidate for the office of Republican Leader-designate may not have directly or indirectly solicited or accepted a formal or informal pledge of support before June 30 of the year following the general election which the final members of their legislative class were elected.”

Conference rules go on to say a violation would render that candidate “ineligible to stand for election before the House Republican Conference as either the Republican Leader-designate or the Republican Leader.”

Corrine Brown trial boasts witness star power

Federal court awaits Brown next week, and political watchers will appreciate the star power brought forth to testify on the questionable charity graced by Brown’s name.

Shaking the tip jar? Bad visual for a defendant in a fraud trial.

Among the defense witnesses: Rev. Jesse Jackson, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee and Rep. Bennie Thompson.

Jacksonville luminaries will also testify, including former Mayor John Delaney.

Testifying for the prosecution: Florida Democratic Party Chair Stephen Bittel, former Jacksonville Sheriff Nat Glover, current Jacksonville City Councilman Reggie Gaffney, Jacksonville super-donors John Baker and Ed Burr, Jacksonville lawyer, and one-time Democratic gubernatorial candidate, Steve Pajcic, and former chair of the Donald Trump campaign in Florida, Susie Wiles.

Testifying for the state: the congresswoman’s daughter, Shantrel Brown and her two alleged co-conspirators: Carla Wiley and former chief of staff Ronnie Simmons. Simmons also is on deck for the defense.

Both Wiley and Simmons have pleaded out, and their sentences are contingent on cooperation with the feds.

Brown faces 22 federal counts, with a possible 357 years in prison and $4.8 million fine if all charges are found valid.

Nikolai Vitti, Motown-bound

The Detroit Free Press reported this week that Duval County School Superintendent Nikolai Vitti is moving on to the Motor City, wrapping up a tenure that saw Vitti with more buy-in from community “stakeholders” than rank and file.

Out of the frying pan, into the fire: Vitti might miss Jacksonville sooner than later.

Going forward, It looks to be a wild ride for Vitti.

The Free Press reported “jeers” from some audience members, with the objection being that Vitti is not African-American.

And there is a lawsuit challenging the openness of the search process also.

And the teacher’s union wants the interim superintendent kept on as an assistant superintendent.

Vitti’s tagline during this process has been a claim that he has Detroit in his DNA.

There’s still time to order a kit from 23AndMe, doctor.

Meanwhile, the Duval County School Board meets Friday to discuss next steps.

Shad Khan gets greenlit for Shipyards development

The “future of the Shipyards” is in the hands of Jaguars’ owner Shad Khan.

No, it’s not kismet. Rather, it’s the result of Khan’s Iguana Investments emerging as the best of three competitive bids for redevelopment of the Shipyards and Metropolitan Park. Indeed, Iguana’s score of 85.5 was well ahead of the other two hopefuls.

Shad Khan always has incredible concept drawings. How will reality look?

Action News Jax reports that “Khan’s vision for Downtown stays true to his prior ‘Live. Work. Stay. Play’ pitch. His aim is to create an atmosphere around the stadium where the City and Jaguars both benefit. In addition to residential and park space, the plan calls for a luxury hotel that connects to the stadium through a pedestrian tunnel and a pedestrian and bicycle bridge park, similar to the High Line in New York.”

City Council will approve this deal later this spring.

Jax Chamber pushes Players economic impact

The Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce ascribes $151M of economic impact from May’s PLAYERS Championship for Northeast Florida.

The Chamber hosted a news conference this week that involved representatives from the PLAYERS and US Assure, and as has been the case previously, all parties discussed the unique economic synergy created by the event.

“The tournament has hosting opportunities for businesses of all sizes and the PLAYERS Club is an excellent way to showcase our community, the tournament, and your company. If you have not already, I would highly suggest reaching out to staff of THE PLAYERS to figure out how they can help your company host clients at this amazing event,” US Assure chief operating officer Ryan Schwartz asserted.

Jax Chamber tees up for TPC again. These pressers are a yearly tradition.

“During May 9-14, Northeast Florida is on an international stage thanks to THE PLAYERS Championship,” Jax Chamber Chair Darnell Smith said. “As a community, we must continue to take advantage of this spectacular tournament and venue to showcase how wonderful this city is and to help grow business here in Northeast Florida.”

Ed Burr, double booked

When it comes to the JEA Board, almost-Chair Burr has left the building, reports the Florida Times-Union.

Ed Burr is a busy man.

“Mayor Lenny Curry appointed Burr, along with other business leaders, to the board in 2015 following a shake-up of the board in the wake of controversy over governance at JEA. Curry reappointed Burr for another term this year, but Burr asked for his name to be withdrawn from reappointment because of continued ambiguity in state law about whether he is a dual officeholder,” Sebastian Kitchen writes.

Burr, chairman of the Jacksonville Civic Council and a Lenny Curry ally, also serves on the FSU Board.

Tom Petway will serve as interim chair until a new chair is formally selected.

March Madness comes to Jacksonville in 2019

The NCAA awarded Jacksonville a Division I Men’s Basketball Regional for 2019. The Florida Times-Union reports it is the fourth time since 2006 that the city has been a part of March Madness.

Jacksonville is the Florida site chosen for an NCAA regional for the next two years. Tampa received a regional for 2020.

“We have worked on this for the past year, and I think our track record from hosting in 2006, 2010 and 2015 spoke for itself,” said Alan Verlander, chief operating officer and executive director of the Jacksonville Sports Council. “We’re very excited to welcome March Madness back to Jacksonville.”

University of North Florida’s Hodges Stadium will host the NCAA Division I Men’s and Women’s Track and Field Outdoor Championships in May 2019 and May 2021.

Hoop dreams come true for Dirty Duval again.

“We are thrilled to welcome NCAA Championship events back to Jacksonville,” said Curry. “Our community continues to demonstrate that we are a premiere destination for many of the biggest and brightest sporting events. This is another great opportunity to support and celebrate student-athletes who are competing at the highest level.”

Motivational Speaker Doug Dvorak to give Flagler College commencement

Approximately 358 Flagler University students will get a motivational speech from Doug Dvorak when they receive their diplomas at a commencement ceremony next weekend.

Dvorak, an alum who graduated from Flager with a bachelor’s in business administration in 1984, is the CEO of DMG International, an organization that assists clients with sales, productivity and motivational workshops. His background in sales, leadership and management has allowed him to become one of the world’s most sought-after consultants, lecturers and teachers, and in 2014 he was inducted into the Motivational Speakers Hall of Fame.

Miscellany

JAXPORT now offers expanded service to Asia through Hamburg Süd’s new Asia- North America East Coast rotation. JAXPORT’s Blount Island Marine Terminal serves as the last port of call for the new service offered through the 2M Alliance. Ships in the rotation offer direct service from Jacksonville to Busan in South Korea as well as Qingdao, Xingang, Shanghai and Ningbo in China. SSA Marine furnishes stevedoring services at Blount Island.

UF Health Jacksonville neurology patients needing medical imaging are getting scans much quicker after an in-house, multiple-department efforts have reduced turnaround times. The change brings more efficiency, increased throughput, and improved patient satisfaction. Overall, there was a 52 percent decrease in the number of scans that took more than a day to complete. Data for the study were collected through early 2016.

Jacksonville-based Community Hospice of Northeast Florida has a new name — Community Hospice & Palliative Care. The Florida Times-Union reports the change reflects Community Hospice’s growing line of services and programs. Since 1979, Community Hospice has served the end-of-life needs of patients and families in Northeast Florida. In February it received a certificate of need start offering hospice services to an 11-county region of north and north-central Florida.

Armada FC appoints Marshall Happer as chief operating officer

Coming off a 0-0 draw this week with San Francisco that kept the Armada unbeaten, Kartik Krishnaiyer reports the club has promoted Happer to chief operating officer. Happer was appointed by the North American Soccer League (NASL), which took over ownership of Armada FC in early 2017.

A former NFL executive, Happer helped launch Armada FC, previously serving as the club’s senior vice president of club and team operations. He has been with Jacksonville since it kicked off NASL play in front of a crowd of 16,164 at EverBank Field on April 4, 2015, against FC Edmonton. The Armada beat Edmonton twice to start the 2017 campaign and now picked up a draw against San Francisco.

Armada FC COO Marshall Happer, a former NFL executive, who helped launch Armada FC, previously serving as the club’s senior vice president of club and team operations.

Happer will lead the club’s day-to-day business efforts and manage its front office staff. Under the current ownership landscape, all Armada FC assets have been transferred to the NASL. The Jacksonville Armada FC Youth Academy will continue to operate as a separate nonprofit organization.

“It’s an honor to lead this club and continue to bring high-level soccer and quality entertainment to our loyal fans here in Jacksonville,” Happer said. “The team is off to an undefeated start on the field, the front office is eager to connect with the community in new and exciting ways, and the move to Hodges Stadium — a new facility for us — has been extremely well-received by the Armada FC faithful.”

The Armada’s quick start has raised eyebrows throughout the NASL. The club sits in first place with seven points through three games and has yet to concede a goal. Jacksonville travels to New York to face the defending champion Cosmos on Saturday at 7 p.m. The game can be seen live on beIN SPORTS USA nationally.

 

Jacksonville City Council, Lenny Curry prep for pivotal pension vote

The final Jacksonville City Council vote on Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry‘s pension reform bills is still a few days a way.

However, the “Committee of the Whole” meeting to be held Wednesday afternoon stands as an excellent preview of what is to come — a closing argument.

The Curry team — especially the political side — would hold that everyone on the council should, in fact, vote in the affirmative … and that vote should happen in the committee of the whole.

There is no obligation to vote Wednesday, though a vote can be taken if the council is comfortable.

Curry’s political team believes that comfort level should have been reached.

Privately, they have wondered why it is that more council members aren’t rushing to endorse the pension reform solution.

They have committed a six-figure budget to ads in heavy rotation on television.

As well, they have commissioned an internal poll, one which shows the mayor with 70 percent approval and pension reform at 71 percent.

A subtext of the poll: the relative popularity of the Jacksonville City Council is yoked to the charismatic mayor and his reform agenda.

The game being played: political hardball.

The political stakes are high for all parties: without immediate pension reform, costs of the unfunded actuarial liability on the city’s $2.8B pension debt will be $360M next year — out of a general fund budget that is barely three times that number.

Such a hit would be political suicide for the current leadership class.

Curry’s pension reform has its critics, and his team isn’t selling the legislation as perfect — but as the most palatable of a menu of bad options.

His team will want to see a vote. And will want it to be 19-0.

Will that happen?

___

Three of the 14 filed bills are probably the most important: 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.

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

258 and 259 both offer fixed costs via a defined contribution plan for new hires, while offering generous contributions from the city to those hires, and raises for all current employees.

The best deals are for public safety: long-delayed raises to current employees (a 3 percent lump sum payout immediately, and a 20 percent raise for police and fire over three years) and gives all classes of current employees the same benefits.

As well, all police and fire officers will have DROP eligibility with an 8.4 percent annual rate of return and a 3 percent COLA.

The deal, if approved without modification, will bring labor peace through 2027 — though it can be renegotiated by the city or the unions at 3, 6, 9, and 10 years marks in the agreement.

For new employees, however, the plan is historic — a defined contribution plan that vests three years after the new employee for police and fire is hired.

The total contribution: 35 percent, with the city ponying up 25 percent of that — with guarantees that survivors’ benefits and disability benefits would be the same for new hires as the current force of safety officers.

The Curry model, rooted in a deferred contribution approach that increases a re-amortized liability and spreads out costs to hit hardest when the sales tax extension money starts coming in after 2030, is intended to provide fixed costs and certainty for budgets.

Aaron Bean: ‘My name is in the hat for CFO’

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry isn’t the only candidate from the 904 area code in the mix for CFO.

State Sen. Aaron Bean told us Tuesday that he too was being considered for the job … and he gave us some insight into the timing of the process.

“My name is in the hat for CFO,” Bean said. He has met with Gov. Rick Scott, who “said he will announce the process for selection after session” ends.

Current CFO Jeff Atwater leaves his position next month to become CFO of Florida Atlantic University.

Bean is currently unopposed in his heavily Republican Northeast Florida Senate district, and will likely remain that way through 2018.

Bean already filed for re-election.

Unless he gets the CFO gig, which would set off a chain reaction of politicians seeking to move into his current spot.

Rick Scott still mulls Senate race, CFO choice

Two major political questions in Florida right now are predicated on the eventual decision of Gov. Rick Scott.

But he’s in no rush to provide answers.

One such decision: will he, as is widely expected, challenge Sen. Bill Nelson next year.

Nelson, already in campaign mode, is telling reporters he’s “scared as a jackrabbit” to run against Scott.

“In regard to the Senate race, I haven’t made a decision. I don’t think people like long races,” Scott told us regarding the first question.

“I didn’t get into the Governor’s race until April the year of the election. I’m going to continue to focus on my job as Governor. There’s a lot more to do,” Scott added.

“My primary goal is to get people a job,” Scott continued, noting his job creation total is already up to 1.3M.

Another major question: with the Legislative Session closer to the end than the beginning, who replaces outgoing CFO Jeff Atwater?

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, who meets with Scott in Tallahassee on Tuesday morning, has been discussed as a potential replacement for Atwater.

“Lenny Curry’s been a good friend for a long time, and I’ve enjoyed working with him. He’s done a wonderful job as mayor.”

“CFO Atwater will be leaving at the end of the session – in a few weeks,” said Scott, who wants to find someone who will do the best job possible “for all the citizens of the state.”

Curry, who has a 70 percent approval rating in a just-released internal poll (including 60 percent with Democrats and Independents), has seen his political stock rise as his pension reform plan moves ever closer to becoming law.

A unique advantage that Curry – if the Jacksonville microcosm is dispositive – brings to the table: an ability to reach beyond the GOP base.

Curry is clearly on Scott’s radar. And, with the pension reform package expected to pass next week, if Curry were to leave, he’d be leaving the city with a plan to move forward on dispatching the currently crippling unfunded pension liability.

Shock poll: Pension reform, Lenny Curry both top 70 percent with Jax voters

Whatever public grousing there might have been from Jacksonville politicians about Mayor Lenny Curry‘s pension reform, it will be stifled after a dispositive internal poll from Curry’s political committee.

The big number: 71 percent.

That represents the number of Duval County residents who support Curry’s plan to close the old “dinosaur” defined benefit pension plans that have bled the city’s general fund dry.

The small number: 20 percent.

That would represent opponents to Curry’s pension reform.

Beyond pension reform, Curry’s own personal popularity is at 70 percent: 80 percent among Republicans, and 60 percent with Democrats and independent voters.

Proving that a rising tide lifts all boats, 58 percent of those polled believe Jacksonville is on the right track, and 51 percent approve of the job being done by the Jacksonville City Council.

However, nearly half of the 404 voters polled via live phone call would consider voting against a council member who stood opposed to pension reform.

Curry has, methodically and without apology, built a political machine.

This polling is evidence of what happens when a politician brings a reformist mindset and a finely-honed political machine into a place that functioned as a backwater for far too long.

These numbers also provide an exclamation point on a year and a half of pension reform messaging, and make the explicit case that Curry should be taken seriously as a statewide candidate in future election cycles.

Jax Chamber backs Lenny Curry’s pension reform

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry got a political boost today when his allies at the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce endorsed his pension reform package.

“This is a collaborative solution that addresses a longstanding issue facing our city finances and balances the interests of taxpayers and our hard-working, dedicated city employees,” JAX Chamber Chair Darnell Smith said.

Curry’s Chief of Staff Kerri Stewart made the sale to the Chamber’s policy group, which then recommended that the full Board of Directors support the pension reform proposal.

The Chamber backed the entire push toward pension reform, including a trip last year to Tallahassee to show support for giving Jacksonville an ability to extend its current 1/2 cent infrastructure tax to pay off the $2.8B pension debt.

“Mayor Curry identified pension reform as a top priority of his administration and we are now one step from historic reform,” Smith said. “We applaud the mayor for his leadership on this issue and encourage the City Council to approve this plan so we can move forward as a city.”

___

The Jacksonville City Council meets on Wednesday to discuss the pension reform legislation, and time is of the essence, as the city is on the hook for $360M in costs next fiscal year without pension reform. Those costs would cripple the city’s general fund, and imperil political careers on both sides of the aisle.

With reform, the number is a much more manageable $218M.

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.

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

258 and 259 both offer fixed costs via a defined contribution plan for new hires, while offering generous contributions from the city to those hires, and raises for all current employees.

The best deals are for public safety: long-delayed raises to current employees (a 3 percent lump sum payout immediately, and a 20 percent raise for police and fire over three years) and gives all classes of current employees the same benefits.

As well, all police and fire officers will have DROP eligibility with an 8.4 percent annual rate of return and a 3 percent COLA.

The deal, if approved without modification, will bring labor peace through 2027 — though it can be renegotiated by the city or the unions at 3, 6, 9, and 10 years marks in the agreement.

For new employees, however, the plan is historic — a defined contribution plan that vests three years after the new employee for police and fire is hired.

The total contribution: 35 percent, with the city ponying up 25 percent of that — with guarantees that survivors’ benefits and disability benefits would be the same for new hires as the current force of safety officers.

The Curry model, rooted in a deferred contribution approach that increases a re-amortized liability and spreads out costs to hit hardest when the sales tax extension money starts coming in after 2030, is intended to provide fixed costs and certainty for budgets.

With federal block grants in question, Lenny Curry admin watches and waits

The press releases promoting Jacksonville’s celebration of National Community Development Week are similar between 2015 and 2017.

Both the 2015 and 2017 versions discuss how much money Duval County has derived from federal Community Development Block Grants.

This year’s model says that the city has derived $393M from CDBGs since 1975; the 2015 iteration said it was just $388M.

Both versions also promise a week of events.

However, there’s one key difference between 2015 and 2017: the principals involved, and the political context of CDBGs.

In 2015, Democratic President Barack Obama was cruising toward the end of his second term, and Democratic Mayor Alvin Brown didn’t have to worry about Obama eliminating these grants.

Business as usual.

In 2017, Republican President Donald Trump eliminated CDBGs in his “skinny budget.” And Republican Mayor Lenny Curry, who has bet chunks of his political capital on building a relationship with the Trump White House, signaled his first meaningful break from the Trump Administration by participating in National Community Development Week.

In that Trumpian context, block grants are more of a political hot potato.

And thus this event, anodyne in other years, proved to have a more compelling 2017 narrative.

City employees on hand were surprised when this outlet mentioned that no one from the mayor’s office planned to be in attendance. Others were surprised when the expected proclamation from the mayor’s office wasn’t delivered.

“We do have a proclamation,” a speaker said, “but we don’t have anyone from the mayor’s office.”

[In a phone conversation later on Monday, Curry’s spokeswoman Marsha Oliver noted that other city employees were on hand and that the proclamation could have been delivered.]

LaCree Carswell, the manager of the Housing and Community Development Division, said it bluntly when she said “these funds are on the chopping block.”

Carswell said that the $17M in CDBG money the city gets yearly is “used wisely,” with the annual event in a building on a HBCU that was constructed with CDBG money being an example.

Among the allocations funded with block grants at the so-called “Community of Hope” center: an elder-health literacy program … something essential for those in one of Jacksonville’s most economically-challenged communities.

Politicians were on hand — but they were all Democrats.

Former State Sen. Tony Hill, speaking on behalf of Rep. Al Lawson, noted that Lawson told HUD Secretary Ben Carson not to cut this program.

“We need to have it and we need more of it,” Hill said.

Jacksonville City Councilman Garrett Dennis emphasized the importance of the center, as it fulfills three goals of CDBGs: benefiting low and moderate income people; mitigating blight; and promoting health and welfare.

“Whatever I need to do,” was Dennis’ commitment to those on hand.

The City Council “will do what we can to advocate for more funds,” Dennis added.

Dennis, when asked after the event about the absence of representation from the Mayor’s Office, said “maybe it missed someone’s calendar … I’m not sure.”

However, Dennis added, “I plan on following up.”

“Him not being here doesn’t signal good or bad for this project. Why wouldn’t he want federal money coming to Jacksonville,” Dennis continued.

That said, “anytime the mayor uses the bully pulpit on an issue, it helps. Whether it’s pension, CDBG funding, homeless, whenever the mayor comes out, it really makes a statement. In no way do I think he’s avoiding CDBG or is scared to challenge Trump,” Dennis added.

We asked the mayor’s office for a statement. It was brief.

“As long as the program exists and funds are available, we will utilize them,” Oliver said.

Oliver stressed that the mayor was not taking a position on whether the program should or shouldn’t be in existence; however, as budget discussions loom, Curry’s financial team likely will have to factor in the current uncertainty from the White House.

Charles Moreland of the Mayor’s Office is expected to be at a Wednesday afternoon event, which runs opposite the Jacksonville City Council discussing his pension reform legislation.

Lenny Curry political committee makes closing pension argument

If all goes as scheduled, the Jacksonville City Council will vote on whether to enact Mayor Lenny Curry‘s pension reform package later this month.

Curry’s political committee wants to ensure the affirmative case for Curry’s audacious pension reform is heard.

To that end, the first spots in what is expected to be a six-figure ad buy from “Build Something That Lasts” hit Jacksonville airwaves and digital space this Friday morning.

The timing is purposeful: with the Jacksonville City Council expected to hold a “committee of the whole” meeting Wednesday afternoon, locals are encouraged in the spot to call the council and voice their support for the deal.

___

The 60 second commercial distills the complicated message of pension reform into digestible terms and concepts.

Curry notes that the resounding victory in the August sales tax referendum gave the city necessary “resources to eliminate nearly $3B in debt.”

“The final step is a vote by City Council,” Curry continues. “In addition to the half-penny, our reforms end the pension system that caused this crisis.”

The 401k styled pension plans, Curry adds, are just like those in the private sector.

“This ensures that we won’t have a pension crisis again,” Curry said.

____

With the budget relief created by pension savings, Curry noted that “investments in the city, and raises for our police and firefighters who’ve gone a decade without” would be imminent.

Indeed, the collective bargaining agreements offer 20 percent raises over three years to public safety workers, a long-deferred bump in compensation that will bring Jacksonville closer to other major metros in the state.

“I promised bold solutions to problems. This pension reform package keeps that promise,” Curry noted.

____

The City Council faces an untenable reality if the pension package is not voted through: a $360M pension related hit in next FY’s budget.

This year’s contribution was $290M.

Further escalations would come in time for the 2019 city elections, which would be a bloodbath for incumbents.

If reform does pass, the hit next year would be $218M — with the $290M number from this year not expected until the half-penny tax kicks in around 2031.

While there are council members who want deals for their districts, and specific promises in exchange for support, the reality is that if the pension reform does not pass, austerity budgets loom for years to come.

The Curry committee’s ad campaign is a reminder of that reality.

‘Slight adjustments’ drive City Council pushback to Jax pension reform projections

A Wednesday afternoon meeting of the Jacksonville City Council was intended to facilitate deeper inquiry into Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry‘s ambitious pension reform package.

However, the big news was the downward impact of adjustments to payroll growth projections and COLA calculations after Monday’s meeting of the Police and Fire Pension Fund.

“We still save a lot. But we save less,” was how the city’s CFO Mike Weinstein described the impacts of $13M of tweaks that would hit the process for FY 2018 — if the legislators approve the plan.

And that is still an if.

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Police and Fire Pension Fund actuaries thought the plan was too optimistic in assumptions regarding both payroll growth and sales tax revenue, speculating that even after the proposed sunset of Jacksonville’s half-penny tax in 2060, the $2.8B unfunded liability for the defined benefit pension plans that would be closed this year still would not be resolved.

The PFPF report, and a binding vote from the board, catalyzed changes in assumptions from the city.

City CAO Sam Mousa and CFO Mike Weinstein kicked off the event, noting that the mayor’s office has met with every single member of the City Council already, and is attempting to answer questions.

Mousa noted that the PFPF meeting, described above, necessitated “slight adjustments” in “program savings,” and promised detail about how those adjustments will be made.

Weinstein then went on to describe the “slight adjustments.”

“The goals were to try to create a revenue stream that would adequately fund the $3B” unfunded liability, to make sure the three funds were financially sound, and to offer budget relief to enhance services and provide raises.

“The work that our actuary had done … basically were a first cut,” Weinstein said, assuming that the PFPF actuarial analysis would jibe with the city’s.

However, the PFPF “did two things we didn’t do,” Weinstein said.

One such thing: a different payroll growth assumption — 1.5 percent per year from the city, versus 1.25 from PFPF.

The PFPF, said Weinstein, went with the “smaller payroll growth,” which led to a $2M increase in the city’s contribution next year.

“We lost $2M in next year’s savings,” Weinstein said. “They chose 1.25; we think it should be 1.5.”

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“A second thing that happened at PFPF was even a bigger surprise,” Weinstein said.

“The new actuary for PFPF determined,” said Weinstein, that COLA calculations had been done improperly.

This leads to an $11M increase in next year’s payment … and is an issue that the Curry administration had attempted to message months ago.

“We still save a lot. But we save less,” Weinstein said.

“If we don’t get this done and back from Tallahassee,” Weinstein said, the collective bargaining agreements fall through.

“They’ve made their decisions,” Weinstein said.

“There’s a long history with the PFPF and the city,” Weinstein said. “We asked for 1.5 … the Division of Retirement asked for 1.5 … they made the decision and we didn’t have the time to really deal with it.”

Though the $2M is “painful,” it “didn’t merit a blowup,” Weinstein said.

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The adjustments lead to the following changes:

If reform happens, the city would have to pay $221M in pension costs; if not, $360M.

The difference would still be $139M, as the original numbers were $208M and $349M respectively.

Weinstein also discussed what savings would look like: $69M compared to $82M in the original projections, comparing FY18 reform to FY17 contribution.

Weinstein also outlined calculations showing savings over four years instead of three, noting that “for the first 14 years, we will have a savings” from the $290M this year.

The anticipated savings: $69M in FY 18; $72M in FY 19; $65M in FY 20; and $55M in FY 21.

JEA savings in the plan has been reduced, said Weinstein, who noted that $60M in PFPF Reserve Funds would be part of the city contribution.

The impact of raises: also revised, with a $120M hit anticipated in FY20 and FY 21.

Weinstein also offered projections based on a 3 percent revenue growth and a 2.5 percent revenue growth in the general fund, including discussing a so-called savings bank.

“If we take the $10M and use it for growth, we still have $40M in savings,” Weinstein said of the four year projections, which see the “savings bank” bolstered in the first two years, then used to offset raises in years three and four.

Weinstein extolled potential general fund growth, with expectations that after four years, general fund growth will be up anywhere from $73M to $98M after costs.

“This does provide some relief,” Weinstein said, noting a $37M hole in next year’s budget — without reform.

“It’s not perfect. There may be pieces in it you don’t like. But the piece you don’t like may provide four pieces you do like,” Weinstein said, noting collaboration with Tallahassee and 22 bargaining units over a year and a half.

Mousa referred to this as a “sound financial program.”

“We know the issues. We know the positives. We know the negatives. And I believe we found a balance,” Mousa said.

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Questions came from the council.

“We have all of these experts, actuaries … my problem with this whole situation,” said Councilwoman Katrina Brown, is a lack of a “defined number” of how much money is in the General Fund.

Weinstein noted that budget is released in July, which provides clarity.

“If you want it to have an impact on next year’s budget,” Weinstein said, the City Council needs to vote “now,” or the work will be undone.

“If you want to do this the way it’s laid out — good and bad — you need to do it in a reasonable time,” Weinstein said.

“The mayor proposes and the City Council disposes,” Mousa chimed in, regarding the budget.

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Councilman Aaron Bowman noted projections don’t account for growth of expenses.

“The level of growth,” said Weinstein, depends on “variables” in future budgets.

“All those will be basically decided by you … our budget doesn’t have to go up … there are many years that our budget has gone down,” Weinstein said.

Bowman deemed this a “weak answer,” and wanted historic details on growth.

Weinstein noted that staff is down 1,000 bodies since 2009, indicating that growth is not a requisite.

“We know we’re paying a lot more … we know that expenses are going up … what I’d like to see is a better definition” than “$98M in our budget,” Bowman noted.

“We got rid of 1,100 people because costs went up,” Mousa noted. “Decisions are made to counterbalance [increased] costs by reductions.”

“I’m not sure that I want to take you to Vegas with me,” Bowman deadpanned.

One positive: an expected $40M YOY increase in property tax collections.

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Council VP John Crescimbeni noted that, “if we don’t do pension reform, we’re going to be looking at cutting.”

Mousa described the potential of “terrible, terrible budget cuts.” Layoffs would be “very possible.” And Mayor Curry would not “support any millage increase.”

This is “concerning” to Crescimbeni, who noted that millage cuts in the past led to today’s degradation of services.

Mousa said the budget being developed is at current levels — as if reform does not happen.

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Councilman Tommy Hazouri, a former mayor, wondered if there would be more surprises to come.

Mousa asserts that “all has been buttoned up now,” with the PFPF impact statement “outlier” now factored in.

Weinstein added that the Florida Division of Retirement approved the mechanism.

That said, Mousa added that the city is not “married” to these statistics, especially with yearly actuarial review and adjustment factored in.

“We feel very comfortable with the information presented here,” Mousa said, noting that unlike the Better Jacksonville Plan, which was predicated on borrowing with a 5 percent annual sales tax revenue growth rate, the pension reform plan does not involve borrowing.

“We’re not borrowing any money here. We’re not hoping that 4.25% will stay forever and ever,” Mousa added, noting — again — the yearly review function relative to sales tax projections.

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Councilman Garrett Dennis warned against “booby traps” that might await the mayor in 2031.

Weinstein believes that contributions will accelerate, and “the real cash starts rolling in in 2031,” with the impact blunted by the declining value of the dollar (the “present value calculation”).

Other booby traps?

“Don’t do DBs. There’s too much unknown,” Weinstein said.

“Make sure you hire the right folks,” Mousa added.

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Not all the feedback was bad.

Councilman Jim Love lauded the flexibility of the plan.

Councilman Bill Gulliford said that “savings down the road” will be a “big, big number,” noting that a “previous administration” provided unbalanced budgets that required a millage rate increase.

Pension reform, Gulliford added, is a “big topic” with bond rating agencies, which have seen pension as the “#1 focal point” of the yearly meetings.

“There are no absolutes. You want guarantees,” Gulliford said. “All of this is based on … a projection. We don’t know or control the things that can happen like an economic downturn.”

“What are our options? For years, we have looked at this thing … your options are pretty clear,” said Gulliford.

Those options: accept this or cut services and hike the millage rate.

“This is the best chance that I think we’ve got,” Gulliford said. “You don’t want to go where we’re headed right now.”

Councilman Matt Schellenberg noted that “we’ve been working on this for the last six years,” and “we’re on the right track.”

“The Council can always raise the millage rate one or two mills,” Schellenberg noted, though it would take 13 votes to get it through Mayor Curry.

And Councilman Al Ferraro endorsed the plan as a way to “stop the bleeding.”

“We’ve inherited a lot of things that we have to deal with,” Ferraro said. “If we don’t do this, I can see a huge problem in my area and the whole city.”

Councilman Tommy Hazouri endorsed the credibility of the plan in his comments as well.

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Despite Gulliford’s endorsement, the questions kept coming.

Councilman Reggie Brown questioned why millage hikes weren’t coming.

Councilwoman Joyce Morgan wanted assurances that the plan was “recession proof,” but the administration wouldn’t offer them, but “we can’t guarantee anything.”

“The only thing guaranteed is that you’ll die one day,” Mousa said.

“The majority of the contribution,” said Weinstein, “will be handled by the half-penny as much as possible.”

Morgan kept pushing back.

“We don’t talk about how we’re going to have more for our communities. We’re going to have the savings. Can you address that?”

Mousa noted that “if you don’t vote on this, services in the community are going to get worse.”

Morgan encouraged that parlance be used as part of the sales pitch.

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