On Jax’s Southside, Lenny Curry sells the pension tax referendum
Lenny Curry talks pension tax on Jacksonville's Southside

Lenny Curry

At a Town Hall meeting Monday night for Jacksonville City Councilman Scott Wilson, Mayor Lenny Curry was on hand to talk about the pension tax referendum.

Curry, who has three months and two weeks to sell the pension tax, should have his pitch refined by now. He’s made it to community groups ranging from the Jacksonville Bar Association to ICARE. And he will continue to make and refine it until the Aug. 30 referendum.

There are, of course, a few layers to the pitch.

One important one: distinguishing the new era from previous eras.

As is customary, Mayor Curry drew distinctions between his team’s performance and that of his predecessors.

Whether describing the “lack of seriousness” of the budgets of the previous administration, or the “bad decisions over a long period of time” that created the $2.7 billion unfunded pension liability, the underlying message is similar to what it’s been previously — the excesses and the problems of the past are consigned to the historical record.

However, what’s not consigned to the past is pretty stark: the “fiscal crisis of our time,” which engulfs “almost a third of the city’s budget,” Curry said.

And the need for a solution.

Curry outlined the now familiar-terms of the referendum: the extension of the half-penny sales tax, one which imposes “no additional burden on taxpayers,” before debunking other potential solutions.

A half-penny sales tax that starts today, Curry said, would be a “wasted debate,” as neither the legislature nor the governor would go for it.

Raising the millage rate, meanwhile, is a “horrible idea,” with a 30 percent hike needed to “even deal with the problem.”

And Curry took issue with the many hikes in fees over the years.

“Every two or three years,” Curry said, “the sky is falling and we need to impose a new tax.”

Curry doesn’t want a new tax, of course. But an extension of an extant tax.

That extension would come with new pension plans for police and fire, city employees, and correctional workers, said Curry.

To quote Harry Truman, the buck stops here.

The questions received at the Town Hall, almost exclusively, were from white voters over the age of 50.

They were receptive to the mayor’s arguments, and he was able to link the pension tax pitch with other issues.

“The police force in recent years has been decimated,” Curry said, adding that it would take a “very steep climb to get back where we need to be.”

“The men and women in uniform didn’t create this problem,” Curry added, saying that their benefits were negotiated and they “built their lives around them.”

However, that faith happened in a vacuum, one abetted by a process that deviated from state law.

“Collective bargaining didn’t happen every three years,” and unions were out of the loop in favor of the pension fund board. Thus, benefits weren’t compelled to “reflect market conditions” and weren’t given proper oversight.

Curry has become comfortable with the hard sell on this issue, outlining a case of what happens if the deal doesn’t go through.

“If folks don’t like my option,” Curry said, “someone will come behind me” and “you will have a 30 percent property tax increase.”

Of course, Curry expects that his option will prevail.

“I will be running a very aggressive campaign to make sure people are educated on the issue,” Curry said toward the end of his Q & A session.

After the event, meanwhile, the mayor was no less optimistic in conversation with this reporter.

“We’re going to win this referendum,” Curry said, before offering a message to those on the fence.

“You can be with me or not,” Curry said, “but decide before Aug. 30.”

A.G. Gancarski

A.G. Gancarski has written for FloridaPolitics.com since 2014. He is based in Northeast Florida. He can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter: @AGGancarski


  • Martin H. Trauger

    May 17, 2016 at 9:17 am

    I am VERY skeptical . . . . we were told once – pay a half cent and no more tolls – now tolls are back and the justification (excuse) you can drive in the toll free lanes – next we are told half cent for all these major infrastructure projects – cronyism, good old boy back room deals, cost over runs, millions to every jack leg with a briefcase and a “plan” a half BILLION dollar Courthouse to appease Judges egos and only half of the projects are done . . NOW – -“trust me” – you are really not smart enough to understand the details but because we (the elected elite) are so much smarter than us they will pull us out of the mess (that politicians created) in spite of ourselves. Remember Obamacare? We have to pass it to see what’s in it? Are we really gonna trust a politician to take us down that road again? Talks about the police department suffering but pays Sam Moussa $300,000.00 per year as a City employee? Really? $300,000.00!!!!! (that’s $144.00 an hour good work if you can get it I guess) and they are calling for us to trust them, Personally – vote your conscience but always remember – fool me once shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me – I have already been fooled twice and shame on me! Will it happen again? Not to me!

    • Patrick

      May 17, 2016 at 8:44 pm

      Believe me,I am strongly against any past,present,and/or future sales tax increase. I am trying to get an understanding about the tolls that are back.I am not aware of any tolls in North Florida and there is a Toll that is coming,but that is going to be on a road with a private developer building the road better then it is now,out of there pocket. So it is OK to charge a toll for that,and there is an alternate route to take,which I will use,since I will never pay a toll again ,unless I have to. So,if you are talking about another toll road besides this one, please tell me about it.I say make all city employes jobs minimum wage,with no pay increase ever,unless the minimum wage goes up.That will give the people a chance to get jobs who really need jobs,and the ones that can not live on minimum wage,let them go into the public sector and see how hard it is to get a job that pays over minimum wage.

      • Martin H. Trauger

        May 18, 2016 at 8:08 am

        Patrick – these “express lanes” they are installing on I-295 you pay a toll through sunpass and you can breeze past the peasants atuck in the “regular” lanes – they are doing them from San Jose Blvd up to I-95 and they are soon coming to a portion near Baymeadows . . Kinda like pay up or sit in traffic – – – I understand the road you are taking about out by Cecil a private developer has to be paid – no problem – but Interstates? We already pay for them through Gas Taxes..

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