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Money’s too tight to mention … is Duval ready for a new school tax?

Jax

Tuesday pivotal for Duval Co. school tax referendum push

Two committees, one tax vote. Tuesday in Jacksonville.

The final committee meetings for the current Jacksonville City Council are Tuesday and the main topic of discussion will be a possible new tax.

2019-380 would allow a special election on Nov. 5, 2019, for approving the School Board’s levy of a half-cent School Capital Outlay Sales Surtax.

Despite the School Board being united behind a vote this year, City Hall has not been such an easy sell.

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry has urged the School Board to consider a vote in 2020, openly questioning whether the district has the juice or the political acumen to get this through in November.

Curry’s political shop has polled this issue and the support for the tax is not over 50 percen. While some are skeptical of the timing of the release of polling data, the numbers may give some Council members pause.

City of Jacksonville general counsel Jason Gabriel issued a preemptory legal opinion that noted referenda timing and whether they happen at all is the sole judgment of the Council.

“The Council has legislative discretion regarding whether and when to place the sales surtax referendum on the ballot … nothing in the statute explains why a court should limit the council’s discretion to merely the date, or the form, of the election,” Gabriel added.

Typically, the official position of this general counsel reflects prevailing policy currents in the Mayor’s Office, as was spotlighted with attacks on the then-wayward Police and Fire Pension Fund not too long ago.

Despite resistance from the executive branch, the School Board position is fixed. And two Jacksonville City Council committees Tuesday will offer a barometer of the legislative branch’s position.

The Finance Committee gets first crack at the legislation at 9:30 a.m.

Per a Florida Times-Union report on a workshop between members of the School Board and the City Council, there are some positive auguries.

Two committee members (Curry-crat Reggie Gaffney and Republican Jim Love) were in favor of the November vote, even as Republican Finance Chair Greg Anderson noted that there were a lot of questions to be answered ahead of the committee meetings this week.

The committee composition may lend itself to a close vote. Democrat Joyce Morgan, the committee vice-chair, has yet to declare a position, but she could be a third vote in favor.

Republicans Sam NewbyLori Boyer, and Bill Gulliford could represent the deciding factors. Gulliford missed last week’s City Council meeting because of a physical ailment, but will be in attendance for Tuesday’s committee meetings.

Once the legislation gets through Finance, Rules will take it up in the afternoon.

Democrat Tommy Hazouri, the incoming Council Vice President, chairs that committee. When we asked him if floor amendments may push this vote back to 2020 despite the School Board’s desire to get it done this year, he did not say no.

Gulliford is Hazouri’s vice-chair on that committee, which also includes Finance Chair Anderson, Lori Boyer, Republican Matt Schellenberg, and Democrats John Crescimbeni and Ju’Coby Pittman.

If amendments do not manifest in committee, one might expect them on the Council floor Tuesday.

If a vote is deferred for this cycle, the matter won’t be taken up again until late July, with a different City Council composition.

Interest groups have weighed in on both sides of the issue. The Northeast Florida Association of Realtors and the Duval Democrats want the School Board position to prevail. The Jacksonville Civic Council, a collective of CEOs, urges no vote in 2019.

Written By

A.G. Gancarski has been a working journalist for over two decades. Gancarski has been a correspondent for FloridaPolitics.com since 2014. In 2018, he was a finalist for an Association of Alternative Newsweeklies "best political column." He can be reached at a.g.gancarski@gmail.com.

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