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Is mood right for a tax hike? November will offer an answer.

Jax

‘No slam dunk’: Duval County schedules school tax vote in corona-crashed economy

What a difference a year makes.

What a difference a year makes, even in the topsy-turvy world of Jacksonville politics.

In 2019, the economy boomed, but a school capital sales tax referendum was a non-starter for penny-pinching types in City Hall.

In 2020, with the economy having done a face-plant in a coronavirus vat, the Jacksonville City Council overwhelmingly approved the measure 18-1.

Duval County voters in November will vote on a half-cent sales surtax to pay for a bonded out list of school improvements, something that Council members didn’t seem sold on the School Board’s ability to sell.

But after nearly a year, it’s moving.

The main roadblock, a lack of charter funding in the proposal, was removed by the state tax package that allows for per-pupil proceed sharing between charters and traditional schools.

An amendment approved Tuesday night formalized the bill’s adherence to the tax package.

With Gov. Ron DeSantis having signed that legislation last week, lingering worries (or hopes) that charters would be frozen out were rendered moot.

Tuesday’s vote offered a victory lap of sorts, even as some expressed qualms and quibbles about the school district’s plan.

Councilman Aaron Bowman said he would “support this tonight, but not as a taxpayer.”

Bowman questioned overly optimistic projections for how much money would be raised.

“Are people ready to sign on for $100 a year for the next 15 years,” the former Council President asked, rhetorically.

Councilman Michael Boylan, former CEO of WJCT, said he didn’t expect this to be a “slam dunk” with voters.

Councilwoman LeAnna Cumber shared her colleagues’ concerns.

“I do hope the School Board works better with charters,” Cumber chided.

State law gives them no choice, she noted.

The Duval County Public Schools previously sued the city last year over its failure to put the measure before voters before now, News4Jax notes. School officials say they need the revenue to address $1.9 billion in improvements to aging school infrastructure; the tax should raise $1.2 billion in 15 years, though some at City Hall expect the district could raise far more and should consider a cap on revenue.

And a new state law will require the district to share the revenue with charter schools, noted The Florida Times-Union.

While there has been no post-coronavirus polling about the prospective tax, surveys before the current crisis reflected conceptual support.

A poll last year from the University of North Florida found the majority of registered Duval County voters (74%) backed a half-cent sales tax for school capital improvements, without a charter carveout.

However, given the uncertain economy ahead, it remains to be seen if people will be so generous when at the ballot box in November.

Certainly, the City Council did not seem thrilled by what they are passing onto voters.

Jacksonville has already adjusted its current ½-cent discretionary sales tax, repurposing money for the turn-of-the-century Better Jacksonville Plan to pension obligations once it is paid off later this decade.

However, this would be a new tax, not an extension.

A different animal. And a different time.

Written By

A.G. 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 AG@FloridaPolitics.com

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