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Time is running out for a 2019 vote.

Jax

Elections office: Jax school tax vote may be dead letter for 2019

“Logistically impossible”

Based on the read of the Duval Supervisor of Elections office, the dream looks to be dead for advocates of a 2019 school tax referendum in Jacksonville.

A meeting of the Duval County Election Advisory Panel Wednesday saw an SOE employee outline why that vote probably won’t happen this year.

That’s a blow for those who want immediate capital funds for Jacksonville’s long-suffering public schools.

The Duval County School Board wants a 2019 vote on a half-cent sales surtax, given legislative attempts to create a supermajority requirement for a sales tax vote may recur in 2020.

However, the City Council won’t move the bill, creating an impasse that has occupied a Jenga stack of news cycles this summer, and a narrative that has moved like “Waiting for Godot.”

And now the play may as well close.

The process delays, suggest the election panel’s meeting minutes, mean it’s over for this year.

Among the non-negotiables from the Supervisor of Elections office: “no less than 120 days, of lead time to prepare.”

“Supervisor Hogan has said that at this point November 2019 is not impossible, but is highly improbable given the time frame. The office needs at least 1.5 months to train 1,900 poll workers before the election if that’s the method chosen. First they have to be recruited (since a fall 2019 election was not previously on the schedule) and polling locations must be lined up,” read the minutes.

Vote-by-mail: a non-starter, given “650,000 or more” mail ballots and a “massive signature verification process depending on the response rate.”

A December vote? The Lord may disapprove.

“So many polling places are churches that will likely be very busy leading up to the Christmas holiday,” the minutes assert.

If the City Council were inclined to move the bill, the discussion would be less academic; however, what is clear is that the School Board has failed to catalyze that action, with a Wednesday joint meeting between the two elected legislative bodies showing mutual irritation.

Council President Scott Wilson questioned the viability of the proposal, saying “I don’t see how the School Board and the City Council can pass this in 2019,” Wilson said, wanting “legwork.”

School Board members chastised the Council for inaction — but to no avail.

Whether it’s because Council stalled the bill or because the School Board lacks the ability to play City Hall politics, the message from the Supervisor of Elections is simple: it’s probably not happening this year.

Two City Council committees take up (again) the bill on Tuesday. However, the Finance Committee largely lines up with Mayor Curry, and even if the Rules Committee were to push out the 2019 vote, the bill would still have to be discharged from Finance for the full Council to vote.

With the City Council President not sold, that would be a heavy lift.

A ruling in a similar case in Clay County rendered Thursday suggests that a legislative body has a “reasonable” ability to investigate a school board tax referendum before putting it on the election ballot.

The law lacks an enforcement mechanism to compel a vote, leaving the matter frustratingly subjective.

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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