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‘Transformational’: Jacksonville city budget just part of larger narrative

Curry promises a ‘transformational’ term.

On Monday morning, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry rolls out his fifth budget, and first since his reelection in May.

The difference between now and four years ago, in terms of narrative, is massive.

With a $173 million capital improvement budget (more than double Curry’s first $73M CIP), the major concern seems to be (as the Florida Times-Union reports) a lack of a new jail in the budget.

Big ticket projects, such as multi-year and multi-million dollar capital projects at UF Health, the Florida Theater and the Zoo, are in play.

Curry noted in a video release Sunday that he was also focused on maintaining healthy reserve levels,

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Yet most reads on this budget is that it’s a continuation of the plan more so than a rollout of any big second term idea.

Despite this, the Mayor deems this to be a “transformational” budget, a disrupter of the “status quo.”

 

Indeed, as Curry told media last year, the big “transformational” idea of the first term (pension restructuring) was the only reason there was capital spending available.

“Without pension reform,” Curry said, “there would not be [this level of investment]” in capital projects.

After Curry came into office, his promised 90-day audit revealed a city on the brink of insolvency, infusing a narrative of urgency into reform proposals. Reamortizing the pension debt and closing the defined benefit plan to new hires at least bought some time.

Last year’s budget committee (at least those members about to be termed out) were willing to tease the idea of a millage hike.

This year, another tax hike is being discussed. But the Mayor isn’t ready for voters to decide until at least 2020.

The School Board has identified a 10-year, $1.9 billion capital program. Many counties have seen school boards approve taxes for capital needs, and have them moved to the ballot without incident. However, Curry’s City Hall, via the city’s lawyer, has contended that the City Council can and should vet the proposal before voters see it.

And while the School Board wants a 2019 vote, City Hall would like to slow the tempo, similarly to what the Clay County Commission voted for Tuesday night.

Curry has offered to “lead the charge for a 2020 referendum … if they put together a plan with the clear things that are needed,” such as debt service and a project list.

Curry met with Superintendent Diana Greene and School Board Chair Lori Hershey Friday, and reports are “upbeat” about that conclave, but it remains to be seen whether the two sides can align.

All indications are the Mayor still sees 2019 as a non-starter for a tax vote, suggests that Curry has not evolved on this issue in the way the Smart Set might hope.

The Rules and Finance Committees of the Jacksonville City Council take the bill up Tuesday, so more will be clear then.

Word on the street (though unconfirmed by the state at this writing) is that the OPPAGA process would take six months after Council and Mayor approve the referendum vote. If that’s true, well, it’s 2020 or bust.

Clay County’s commission opting to punt its bill back to the School Board for a 2020 vote this week shows what Curry’s Council could do.

As well, Jacksonville’s City Council could simply slow walk the legislation, stretching out the process with deferrals.

 

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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