The Florida House is considering legislation to block cities from using utility money for general fund budgets, but local resistance is already emerging.
On Monday, the first of three Jacksonville City Council committees of reference unanimously OK’d a resolution opposing HB 653, a bill which would end a practice central to the city’s general fund budget.
The bill is an emergency, so that the resolution can be passed by Council (and theoretically signed into law by Mayor Lenny Curry) before the January start of the Legislative Session.
Jacksonville derives just shy of 10% of its current $1.27 billion budget from the so-called JEA Contribution.
JEA’s contribution is just shy of $120 million this year, with $122,424,496 expected by FY 22-23.
However, the Florida House bill could impact this budget year, as it would go into effect in July.
A city lawyer said the bill could “impact the contribution from the electrical revenues that JEA gives the city.”
Councilman Danny Becton, the liaison to JEA, noted that “the city of Jacksonville owns JEA” and is “entitled to dividends and net profits.”
The contribution dollars, Becton added, are essentially “dividends.”
“I do not support what the House is trying to do,” Becton said.
Others supported this position.
Councilman Aaron Bowman framed the bill as another assault on home rule, adding that JEA money was a “tax.”
“If we didn’t like the money coming from JEA,” Bowman said, “our rates would be significantly lower.”
If the bill passes, Bowman said a one mill property tax hike might be necessary to offset the revenue loss.
Other staunch allies of Mayor Curry, including LeAnna Cumber and Terrance Freeman, backed the bill also, suggesting that real pressure from Suite 400 hasn’t manifested on this measure.
Jacksonville City Council members in recent years have chafed against cuts of sources of local revenue, such as moves to increase homestead exemptions, before.
However, with the City Council raising serious questions about JEA as it explores a sale, a move with little apparent public support, emotions ran high Monday in the Transportation, Energy and Utilities committee.
Finance and Rules take up this bill Tuesday, and the full City Council is likely to do the same on Dec. 10.