‘Eye toward 2020’: Lenny Curry still not sold on Duval school tax referendum

Lenny Curry
"Make the case for Nov. 2020..."

Thursday at Jacksonville City Hall was devoted to the economic impacts of a motocross competition, but a bigger-stakes race loomed in the background.

Tuesday and Wednesday saw strong momentum for a proposed discretionary sales surtax referendum: Duval County’s School Board wants a 1/2 cent sales tax to be voted on this November.

Despite Mayor Lenny Curry opposing the timing of the proposed special election early, nemeses like Sen. Audrey Gibson and Rep. Tracie Davis were among over 60 speakers Tuesday at the City Council meeting backing a November vote.

Wednesday saw more momentum: Councilman Reggie Gaffney, a Democrat endorsed by Republican Curry for re-election, said Council backed the School Board in its battle with the Mayor.

The Council is expected to vote on whether to allow the November referendum on Tuesday. Curry could still veto the measure if it does not pass with a 2/3 supermajority.

On Thursday, Curry would not commit to vetoing or supporting the referendum, asserting that the material case had not been fully made.

“I don’t believe that there should be a special election in November of 2019,” Curry said.

“I’m open to 2020. I have kids in public schools. I know our schools need work,” Curry said. “The question is when and what.”

“When should it be? I think they should make the case for November 2020. And then some questions need to be answered,” Curry said.

“What’s the cash flow analysis? What’s the debt service analysis? What’s the plan of priorities? Before the Better Jacksonville Plan was passed,” Curry said, “people knew for example that their roads would be resurfaced and they’d know when.”

“What’s the priority of fixtures, the needs that they have? They’ve talked about an external citizens’ review board … what would be the professional expertise put on that board as it relates to this project,” Curry asked.

“I think people ought to have a say in dollars going to schools, but some questions need to be answered,” Curry added.

Curry wouldn’t say that his political machine would engage against a November 2019 vote, should that be the will of the Council.

“I want to work with the school board. I want to work with the Superintendent. And I have advised them to make the case over the next few months, bring in the different constituencies and stakeholder groups that care about this, much like we did with pension reform.”

Back in 2016, Curry pushed for a 1/2 cent sales tax contingent upon changing police and fire pension plans to defined benefit arrangements. With over $2 million behind it, that drew nearly 65 percent of the vote.

“We had to bring in the Legislature … the Governor … City Council … labor unions … the people of Jacksonville,” Curry said.

“We moved when the time was right. My advice to them is simply I’d like to see success,” Curry added. “Try to travel this road thoughtfully and it’s more likely you will be successful.”

“Let’s have an eye toward 2020,” Curry said. “I don’t believe you should ask voters to approve a tax when they don’t know what the priorities are.”

“And do you have buy in? What’s your political plan? How are you going to win? You going to raise private dollars or use taxpayer dollars,” Curry asked.

Taxpayer dollars, Curry added, create problems.

“Are taxpayers OK with their dollars being used on a television and mail campaign? If that is what you’re going to do, you can’t specifically advocate,” Curry said.

“How are you going to win?”

While the Jacksonville Civic Council still opposes the referendum as framed, thus far the influencer class hasn’t exerted much visible sway over the process.

Curry, an avatar of donor class priorities, has lost few legislative battles.

Despite on-record opposition to expanding the Human Rights Ordinance to cover the LGBT community, that passed in his first term. And his attempt to have a “mature conversation” about privatization of local utility JEA thus far has come to naught.

If the counter-case is going to be made, meanwhile, Tallahassee may not be overt help.

Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Curry ally, was reticent when we asked him about the Duval County School Board’s push to get a November 2019 referendum for a discretionary sales surtax, the last slot before the provisions requiring general election plebiscites kick in.

He would not condemn the move: “I am not sure what they’re doing, so I don’t want to comment on it.”

The Governor then added that “standalone elections,” much like Duval Schools wants, may actually contribute to having motivated voters decide an issue.

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


  • Seber Newsome III

    June 13, 2019 at 11:56 am

    I do not think there should be a special election for the purpose of letting the citizens vote on whether or not to have an additional sales tax for school upkeep. If you are going to consider this at all, wait until November of 2020. Why waste $1,000,000 on this. Just imagine how that money could be used to fight crime?? Dont be bullied by the school board members and their supporters. Wait until November of 2020, if there is a vote on it all. Personally, I do not think the citizens will approve it anyway.

  • Frankie M.

    June 13, 2019 at 12:24 pm

    MC Lenny Curry needs to get on board with his brother from another mother Ronnie D. The train is leaving the station with or without MC Lenny. I don’t remember this much handwringing over the $18M he dropped on that parking lot formerly known as the Landing? If only MC Curry cared as much about other people’s kids as he does his own. The only thing that dude cares about what Gary Shartrand tells him to care about. The business mayor had a chance to be the education mayor which is ironic because businesses looking to relocate to Jax care more about ALL of the public schools than MC Lenny. Instead of dropping millions of $$ in incentives and tax breaks to businesses on the back end why not invest in the future? Looks like he’s gonna sit this one out on the sidelines til he figures out which way the wind blows like he did with the HRO? The only way I go along with MC Curry if I’m Diana Greene is a press conference with Lenny pledging his full support for the sales tax referendum in exchange for pushing it back a year. Appeasement is not a good strategy.

  • Frankie M.

    June 13, 2019 at 12:47 pm

    It’s funny how people never have a problem throwing $$ at JSO and crime but they throw up their hands when you talk about fixing our aging schools. All MC Curry has to do is leave his San Marco bubble and tour some of these schools to see what is going on but unfortunately his job depends on him having ostrich in the sand syndrome.

    MC Curry cares more about the GSW (golden state warriors) than he does about GSW(gun shot wounds). Don’t get me wrong. He cares about the appearance of violent crime just not actual violent crime. That’s why Jax had the fastest implementation of Cure Violence than any other city. All it took was 4 years, an election, & the prodding of Anna Brosche(Seber’s personal hero).

  • Seber Newsome III

    June 17, 2019 at 10:55 am

    Ah yes, Anna Brosche is my hero, because she ran for Mayor, got her butt kicked and now is not on the city council any more. And her Lynching monument is history too, yes she is my hero!! Frankie M.

    • Frankie M.

      June 25, 2019 at 11:24 pm

      You talk about her enough I thought you had a shrine devoted to her. Do you practice voodoo Seber?

Comments are closed.


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