The vote was 14-5.
The money will fund the “Jobs for Jax” package of infrastructure needs and wants and will allow the city some breathing room so it can fund septic conversion projects, starting with $100 million to be programmed in the next two budgets, as passed in a separate bill Wednesday.
“The art of great legislation is compromise, and they’ve done a great job,” enthused Council President Tommy Hazouri, a co-introducer of the bill, noting the dialogue with Curry’s staff that brought along skeptical members, some of whom flipped to support the bill in the 11th hour.
“It’s legendary, for this administration and this Council,” Hazouri added.
Critics have grumbled, including claims this is a tax-and-spend “slush fund” for establishment mayoral candidate Daniel Davis. But the proposal is in the tradition of former Mayor John Delaney‘s Better Jacksonville Plan, an ameliorating shopping list from a Mayor who this week proclaimed that he was in “political sunset.” Indeed, a co-sponsor of the bill, Democrat Garrett Dennis, once was a fierce opponent of the current Mayor.
Times have changed and alliances have shifted. The most consistent anti-tax arguments came from conservative Republicans.
The tax will directly fund renovations to the Skyway system ($247 million), development of the Emerald Trail of downtown hiking and biking paths ($132 million, money already moved from the Skyway funding), and $250 million for projects related to small and emerging businesses.
However, an amendment from Republican Council member Randy DeFoor that sought to strike the funding for the Skyway and the Ultimate Urban Circulator (an autonomous vehicle program that has received federal and state funding already) was ultimately the big discussion point before failing.
JTA CEO Nat Ford stressed the city is on the hook for the aging system, including the superannuated cars, and the federal government leaves open the right to clawback as much as $100 million (the total grant money) from the city, Ford said. He also noted the Ultimate Urban Circulator already received state and federal support, contingent on the expectations of match money and follow-through on projects.
The Council considered other amendments, voting down a proposal to make the projects pay-go and remove bonding, and rejecting a proposal to block JTA from receiving gas tax funds.
Some amendments did make the cut. An accountability dashboard will be added to the city website to allow at-home tracking of the project list and its fulfillment. Another amendment was added to ensure compliance with state ethics laws, in case that was ever in question.
Curry, who spent much of his first term winning big votes unanimously, has gotten better at winning ugly of late, out of necessity.
After second-term setbacks on JEA privatization and the Lot J proposal, the dialogue has reopened, and for his final two years as Mayor, he can expect Council Presidents with whom he works well, and ample resources for capital budgets that may, at last, address the broken promises of consolidation.
Today is a landmark day in Jacksonville. We will soon have the means to fulfill promises made to citizens decades ago.
Please watch this video to find out how today’s vote will greatly enhance the quality of life for our entire community. #1City1Jacksonville pic.twitter.com/LmWc24GnD2
— Lenny Curry (@lennycurry) May 26, 2021