Tuesday, the Community Affairs Committee of the Florida Senate approved Senate Bill 1652, the Discretionary Sales Surtax bill introduced by Rob Bradley and co-sponsored by Aaron Bean.
The bill has its first House committee stop scheduled for Wednesday; it still has two Senate committees to go.
As the meeting soldiered toward the presentation, Jax Mayor Lenny Curry could be seen sitting next to head city lobbyist Marty Fiorentino, sharing a joke and projecting confidence.
Bradley, in introducing the bill, noted the “potential for serious financial difficulty” posed by Jacksonville’s $2.6 Billion Unfunded Liability.
He rooted the bill in state level previous pension efforts in recent years.
The first amendment of the bill clarified that this is not a tax hike, but a repurposing of an extant tax.
Senator Travis Hutson posed a question regarding the “defined benefit plan negotiated by Council and the Mayor” with “new employees.”
Bradley responded that a prerequisite for this was that the existing system “shuts down and the new one begins.”
The bill gives “flexibility” to the local government, Bradley added.
Another safeguard Bradley pointed out in the bill: the pension surtax is phased in, pending a popular referendum, after the Better Jacksonville Plan infrastructure surtax obligation is retired in or before 2030.
“This unfunded liability is choking the financial stability” of Jacksonville, Bradley said, adding that this bill is a “tool” and not a “bailout” from Tallahassee.
Bradley added, also, that this is a dedicated funding source, unlike millage rate hikes, and that only a few cities’ “older legacy plans” would potentially benefit from this legislation.
“This is a way to address some of the larger remaining issues,” Bradley added.
Hutson, in indicating support, called this a “tool” to be used, with the “alternative” to be “filing bankruptcy” or raising the millage rate.
The bill was reported favorably, and moves on through the process.
Kerri Stewart, Chief of Staff for the Curry administration, noted that the Jax Chamber was affirming its support of the bill concomitant with the Senate deliberation.
The political flexibility that Stewart denoted after the meeting with the Police and Fire Pension Fund, and in the Duval Delegation meeting, was evident in both Senator Bradley’s moves on the bill, as well as in the administration’s own posture.
Stewart said that the Curry Administration is prepared for a number of possible scenarios, including but not limited to this model being applicable to other metropolitan legacy pension issues.
Regarding Wednesday’s hearing in the House Finance and Tax Committee, Stewart has her “fingers crossed.”
Council President Greg Anderson, likewise, is watching this bill as it moves through the process.
For Jacksonville public officials, the capital infusion this tax and this bill would create is a necessity.
As of now, one committee is down, and four to go.
The Jax Chamber is on board, as said above.
“As a city, we need to not only dream big about what we can become, but have the resources to make those dreams a reality,” JAX Chamber Chair Audrey Moran said. “By solving the unfunded liability, we can free up hundreds of millions of dollars in our city budget. That makes business sense and the business community will rally behind Mayor Curry to help get this proposal approved.”