Jacksonville Bold for 3.6.24: The city is broke.

High aerial photo Jacksonville FL
Is Donna Deegan gambling with money the city doesn't have?

You wouldn’t know it from media coverage, but despite Republican and Democratic Mayors over the years, this city’s bills have long since been due, and there’s no clear mechanism to pay them.

Truth in Accounting says, “Over the last year, Jacksonville’s financial condition worsened by $984.6 million, resulting in a Taxpayer Burden™ of $11,200, earning it a ‘D’ grade.”

Not good!

In fact, only 10 cities of the 75 indexed are worse off.

One major issue, notes the analysis, is the city’s massive pension problem.

“Jacksonville had set aside only 47 cents for every dollar of promised pension benefits and only 11 cents for every dollar of promised retiree health care benefits.”

Donna Deegan keeps pushing pensions as a source of funding for a new stadium, with a hazy bottom line.

The city “had $4.5 billion available to pay $8.1 billion worth of bills,” creating a “$3.5 billion shortfall, an increase of $984.6 million from the prior year and a burden of $11,200 per taxpayer.”

The biggest burden is the $5 billion in unfunded pension liability. (For those who might wonder, the city isn’t selling JEA; it’s one asset that could resolve these issues, given that the last sale attempt is still being hashed out in federal court.)

This would be a daunting issue in a vacuum. But we’re not in a vacuum. Politicians on both sides of the aisle drive competing needs.

Mayor Donna Deegan’s team continues to push for massive public financing of Jaguars stadium renovations, though details are vague as to the ultimate cost.

A proposal by chief negotiator Mike Weinstein to partially finance stadium work using pension funds has received criticism from surprising quarters, including Democrats such as former Alvin Brown senior staffer Chris Hand.

“Police officers, firefighters, and other first responders assume enormous risks to protect citizens. Other City employees invest years, if not decades, on behalf of the community. The pension funds which supply these public servants with retirement security should be off-limits as stadium financing,” writes Hand, who spent much of Brown’s term negotiating pension with a City Council often driven by electoral politics.

“Having been immersed in pension issues during four years at City Hall, I return to this subject with reluctance. But far too much work has been done across multiple mayoral administrations and City Councils to shore up the fiscal health of the retirement funds and address past pension governing challenges to reverse course now.”

Hand’s implication is clear: The controversial policy could be fraught with political peril, suggesting that the more conventional and expensive route of bond financing may be in play. Hopefully, bond markets aren’t reading this!

Salem hopes for a new jail, which new estimates suggest could cost a billion dollars. This illustrates the perils created by previous policymakers ignoring long-standing issues with the current facility.

Jacksonville’s general fund budget is $1.75 billion, meaning that the jail and stadium — in principle alone, never mind the borrowing costs — will require more than a year of operational funds.

Financing these would delay work in neighborhoods, meaning that the administration’s stated priorities, such as resiliency and uplift for the Northside, the Westside and the Out East, would remain aspirational goals.

The Mayor’s Office congratulates itself like no administration in Jacksonville history. Given pressing needs and limited time and budget, it’s time for them to stop patting each other on the back and work with the Council to figure out a way forward. As Deegan said, if this is a “new day,” the ultimate proof is sustainable solutions.

We don’t have them right now.

Holzendorf service

A Jacksonville political legend who represented the city in the House and Senate will be laid to rest this week.

Sen. Betty Holzendorf’s viewing will be at the Northside Chapel of Sarah L. Carter on New Kings Road in Northwest Jacksonville on Sunday, starting at 2 p.m.

Rest in peace to former Sen. Betty S. Holzendorf. Image via the Florida Senate.

The St. Paul AME Church will hold the Celebration of Life Monday at 11 a.m., and immediately after that, she will be buried at the Jacksonville National Cemetery.

Holzendorf spent four years in the House before 10 years in the Senate until 2022, during which time she was Democratic Leader Pro Tempore for four years.

Asbestos obstacle

The Senate has approved legislation requiring more information from people seeking compensation in asbestos and silica cases via 2005’s Asbestos and Silica Compensation Fairness Act.

Republican Sen. Travis Hutson’s bill (SB 720), approved by a 29-6 vote without debate, amends Florida Statutes to require claimants to provide more information about their smoking history and information about people who can attest to the claimant’s exposure.

Have an asbestos claim? Travis Hutson wants to know about your smoking habit.

If a second party is testifying to the claimant’s exposure, they must also provide their name, address, date of birth and marital status.

The statute of limitations on these claims doesn’t begin until the person exposed discovers a physical impairment related to asbestos exposure. Furthermore, cancer claims could lead to a second lawsuit after one filed for a previous non-cancer physical issue related to exposure.

A similar measure from Republican Rep. Robert Brackett (HB 1367) was on the Special Order Calendar in the House but has since been moved back to the Second Reading Calendar. The only path the bill has is if the House takes up the Senate version in Messages, in light of the 55-day rule precluding bills moving from 2R to the floor this late in the Session.

Homeless help

It could be significantly more challenging for unhoused people to sleep in public spaces soon, as the House and Senate have passed legislation by a local Republican cracking down on the practice and compelling counties to set up homeless camps.

The Republican Rep. Sam Garrison bill has been called a “carrot and stick” approach to managing the homeless problem in the state.

Sam Garrison is calling for a “carrot and stick” approach to managing the homeless problem.

“The status quo is not acceptable,” the Clay County Republican said ahead of the 82-26 vote, saying this bill would be among the most impactful passed this Session.

HB 1365 bans counties and municipalities from permitting public sleeping or public camping on public property without explicit permission, in a move deemed by the bill language to fulfill an “important state interest” with what Garrison has called a “Florida model” for handling the issue.

Under the legislation, counties would be charged with setting up encampments that ban drugs and alcohol and include rehabilitative social services to enforce the prohibition against rough sleeping. The camps could only be in one place for 365 consecutive days.

Those conditions include clean restrooms, running water, security on-premises, and drug and alcohol bans. They must also be located in places that don’t impact the value of nearby properties.

The bill moves back the effective date for the cause of action, which allows people to sue localities for not implementing the rule, to Jan. 1, 2025.

The legislation accords with Gov. Ron DeSantis’ stated desire to have camps such as those outlined in this bill and its Senate companion (SB 1630), with restrictions on what occupants can do and “help” available in efforts to include what he has called “judicial scrutiny.”

With the Senate also having passed the bill Tuesday, he will have a chance to sign it.

Halfway home

Florida may raise the voting threshold for millage rate hikes, with a future House Speaker’s legislation passing the House by an 85-21 vote without debate, even though a similar bill is stalled out, at least for now, in the Senate.

Garrison is also carrying HB 1195, which would ban localities from raising property tax above the prior year’s rate without a two-thirds vote by the local legislative body.

The bill would force localities to live by the same rules as the state, where a constitutional amendment requiring a legislative two-thirds supermajority to raise taxes passed six years ago.

Blaise Ingoglia’s bill raising the threshold for millage rate approval could be struggling this Session.

An amendment from the sponsor gave the Department of Revenue emergency rule-making authority to deal with the upcoming to implement the act on Thursday.

The bill would go into effect in July, imposing the supermajority requirement for any millage increase after this year should it become law. Many municipalities pass their budgets in the summer, and this legislation would affect budgets starting as soon as October.

The Senate product (SB 1322), carried by Sen. Blaise Ingoglia of Spring Hill, did not get a hearing in Appropriations, so it’s uncertain whether this bill will become law.

Help the children

The House has unanimously passed legislation that cracks down on criminals who victimize children.

Republican Rep. Jessica Baker’s bill (HB 1545) would increase the points that prosecutors and judges use in the offense severity ranking chart (OSRC) formula to determine penalties for a variety of heinous crimes involving “possession, promotion, and production of child sexual abuse material.”

The Jacksonville Republican noted when the bill was up on Special Order that, among crimes of this type, “Florida has consistently lower levels of scoring and punishment guidelines as it relates to online child exploitation as compared to other states and the federal government.”

Jessica Baker’s plan to reform sentencing guidelines in child abuse cases is gaining traction.

These include prohibiting a person from using a child in a sexual performance, prohibiting a person from promoting a sexual performance by a child, prohibiting a person from possessing child pornography with the intent to promote, and prohibiting a person from possessing or intentionally viewing child pornography.

“By increasing the offense severity ranking of specified child exploitation offenses, the bill may increase the minimum sentence to which a person convicted of such an offense may be sentenced and may increase a term of incarceration required to be imposed as part of that sentence,” a legislative bill analysis notes.

It could lead to more people going to prison for longer stretches for these offenses.

“The bill may have a positive indeterminate impact on jail and prison beds by increasing the OSRC ranking for specified child exploitation offenses, which may result in increased prison admissions or longer terms of incarceration for persons convicted of such offenses,” reads an analysis of the legislation.

A similar Senate bill from GOP Sen. Jonathan Martin passed Tuesday with some changes so that the House will pass the Senate version, which will become law.

Words matter

Rep. Dean Black offered a long-form social media defense of a bill he sponsored that cleared the House Friday that requires people to list their sex assigned at birth on their identification cards, in a move framed as erasure of transgender and nonbinary people by critics.

Unsurprisingly, the Westside Republican doesn’t see it that way.

Dean Black resists obfuscating basic biology.

“After a long period of debate and numerous attempts to obfuscate basic biology, HB 1639 has passed. I was honored to work with Rep. (Doug) Bankson on this bill throughout the entire process,” Black said before restating his position.

“The truth is this: the bill simply acknowledges the reality that biological sex cannot be changed. Mandating that a driver’s license corresponds to this immutable characteristic does nothing more than confirm what we’ve been taught since we were children in school. Words matter.”

Black also lauded “mandating insurance companies cover de-transitioning therapies if they also cover sex reassignment surgeries” as “common sense and a medical necessity” given that “de-transitioning” is on the rise.

This is ultimately a message bill. The Senate has no companion legislation.


A Putnam County Republican sounded very Putnam County in his close on a House bill with no path in the Senate.

“Now some Democrats want to take our guns,” Rep. Bobby Payne said. “They complain about gun violence, which is Black-on-Black crime and the use of stolen guns. Criminals attack innocent people every day.”

Bobby Payne relishes his Putnam County-ishness.

The House voted by a 76-35 vote to lower Florida’s gun-buying age on assault-style rifles to 18. But the bill (HB 1223) has no shot in the Senate, where President Kathleen Passidomo has made clear the upper chamber has no plans to take the measure up.

Ultimately, one of Payne’s last speeches on the House floor — he’s term-limited — will be remembered for unfortunate race-baiting.

Baker bucks

The Legislature, in some senses, hasn’t stopped fighting the Civil War, as evidenced by weeks of focus on a dead-for-this-year Confederate monument protection bill.

While the monument bill is no more (for now), an effort to fund the rehab of a museum commemorating the most significant Civil War battle in the state appears more imminent, with the Senate agreeing to match the House’s proposed $400,000 funding level for the Olustee Battlefield State Park Citizens Support Organization.

Olustee was the place in Baker County where the Battle of Ocean Pond happened in 1864, a skirmish primarily about cutting off Confederate supplies from Jacksonville to the east. One hundred sixty years later, Sen. Jennifer Bradley and Rep. Chuck Brannan, both Republicans, appear poised to get money for the first substantial reconstruction of the “deteriorating” facility since the 1950s.

The Legislature is not quite done fighting the Civil War.

“These funds will supplement other funds raised to build a new museum located at the Olustee Battlefield State Park behind the rapidly deteriorating current Olustee Battlefield Museum, which was built in the early 1950s. The secure facility will include both indoor and outdoor exhibits that tell the story of the Civil War in Florida, culminating with the Battle of Olustee. The new museum will house interactive exhibits, artifacts, restrooms and a historical library,” reads the House funding request.

What leadership looks like

The Jacksonville City Council is preparing for the post-President Ron Salem era, and meetings are underway regarding the leadership battle.

There’s not much drama compared to races last decade decided after intense lobbying at the last minute. Randy White, the current Vice President, Is widely expected to remain the next President. Kevin Carrico will be the next Vice President and will be in the on-deck circle for the top job in Deegan’s third year.

After that? Expectations are that Deegan will deal with Nick Howland in her pivotal fourth year amid a re-election campaign.

Ironically, Deegan’s office attempted to submarine Salem for months, given that he has tried to bridge the gap between Council priorities and those of the Mayor’s Office in a way Carrico or Howland likely won’t.

Tweet, tweet:

Capital funding

The OCEARCH Mayport Research and Operations Center appears to be on the verge of securing enough money from the state of Florida this year for a capital project.

The Senate Appropriations Chair has agreed to the House position, which would allocate $1.5 million to the facility. That number is just 30% of the $5 million initially sought for the Northeast Florida organization dedicated to shark research.

Yet it exactly matches the $1.5 million requested for capital purposes, even though the number elides the $3.5 million in operational support requested by Sen. Clay Yarborough and Rep. Wyman Duggan.

OCEARCH Mayport Research and Operations Center could get a cash influx, thanks to Wyman Duggan and Clay Yarborough.

The money likely will “support the construction of a facility (OCEARCH’s global headquarters) and customized first-response catamaran,” leaving Jacksonville University to seek other funding via individuals, corporations and foundations, at least until its inevitable budget request next year.

Jacksonville University, the official requester, owns the dock and the land and will administer the funding if Gov. Ron DeSantis doesn’t veto it. This will allow it to continue a partnership begun seven years ago.

The budget request outlines ambitious goals for OCEARCH’s global headquarters, which will accommodate “public education and displays, public meetings, OCEARCH ship operations, a new quick-response vessel for marine research and marine animal rescue, and dockage for the various OCEARCH vessels,” along with “laboratory, data management, and academic resource management to assist collaborative scientists and researchers in their efforts.”

Housing help

Jacksonville’s affordable housing crisis, an increasingly big issue in recent years, will get some help from Vestcor.

Madison Palms, which will be near Merrill Road and I-295, will include eight buildings and 240 units and is scheduled for completion by March 2025.

Vestcor lends a hand in the fight for affordable housing in Jacksonville.

Of these units, 96 will have one bedroom, another 96 will have two bedrooms, and the other 48 will have three. Rent will depend on income.

“It is essential that we grow the inventory of workforce and affordable housing in Jacksonville,” said Mayor Donna Deegan during the groundbreaking ceremony Friday morning. “While we have a couple of thousand affordable housing units in the pipeline for 2024 and 2025, we must rapidly grow that number. And that’s exactly what my administration is focused on doing.”

Bar rescue

Good news for Jacksonville University’s law school: The American Bar Association (ABA) has granted provisional accreditation.

“This is the vision of Jacksonville University, its faculty, staff and leadership — to build a great law school with great students, who become great lawyers who go on to serve their communities with ethical professionalism and the highest ideals of a noble profession,” said Jacksonville University President Tim Cost. “Our University has applied for and received accreditation in numerous programs in disciplines across our institution, and we are proud to add law to our long list of accredited programs.”

Tim Cost is relishing JU Law’s accreditation.

Students can take the Bar exam and become lawyers, which is the point of law school for most.

“The deliberate speed with which the College of Law has been able to achieve accreditation must be credited to the years of careful planning and preparation to open a law school by this university, led by President Cost and guided by talented administrators, faculty, staff, with the encouragement and support of the bench, Bar, city and people of the greater Jacksonville community,” said Randall C. Berg Jr. Founding Dean of the College of Law, Nick Allard. “Attaining ABA accreditation is a justifiably rigorous and demanding process and for that reason, I am enormously proud that the law school faculty, staff, and students made accreditation a priority among all their other responsibilities.”

Luster lost

A sad write-up by the Florida Bar shows that a former 2016 candidate for the U.S. Senate continues to have trouble in his legal career.

Reginald Luster, 150 Busch Dr., #28264, Jacksonville, disbarred effective immediately following a Feb. 12 court order. (Admitted to practice: 1988.) Several complaints were received indicating Luster was practicing law while suspended. He was contacting insurance companies to settle claims for ‘clients.’ Luster’s bank records also indicated he was receiving settlement monies while suspended. (Case No. SC22-0459).”

Reginald Luster’s law career suffers yet another blow.

Luster finished fifth in the Democratic Primary, with less than 3% of the vote and under 30,000 votes, putting him behind dubious political talents, including serial candidate Roque de la Fuente, Pam Keith, Alan Grayson, and the eventual nominee Patrick Murphy.

Chalk up two more

Republican Nick Primrose is touting a pair of endorsements for his campaign for House District 18. The latest backers are Reps. Mike Beltran and Rachel Plakon.

“I’m excited to announce that our campaign has been endorsed by two conservative champions in the Florida House,” Primrose said in a post on Facebook.

Primrose praised Beltran as “a steadfast advocate for judicial system reforms, demonstrating a commitment to upholding the rule of law and protecting our constitutional rights.”

Nick Primrose gets some high-profile endorsements. Image via JAXPORT.

He likewise lauded Plakon for a bill she sponsored in the 2023 Session to prohibit people from using bathrooms that don’t align with the sex they were assigned at birth, as well as a measure that enhances criminal penalties for fentanyl dealers.

“I am deeply grateful for the endorsement and support of Reps. Beltran and Plakon, and I am eager to join them in advancing conservative principles and serving St. Johns County in the Florida House of Representatives,” he concluded.

Primrose is the former Chair of the Florida Elections Commission and previously served as Deputy General Counsel in the DeSantis and Rick Scott administrations. He resigned as FEC Chair a year ago to pursue elected office.

His most recent campaign finance report, covering activity through Dec. 31, showed his campaign with more than $202,000 in overall fundraising. He has raised another $77,600 through his political committee, Friends of Nick Primrose.

HD 18 covers a portion of St. Johns County. It is a safe Republican seat that Donald Trump carried with two-thirds of the vote in 2020. It is currently held by St. Johns Republican Rep. Cyndi Stevenson, who is term limited.

Jaguars tag Allen, Ridley’s future TBD

The Jaguars’ roster overhaul has begun.

According to multiple reports, the first move involving a starter was to release defensive tackle Foley Fatukasi. The move saves the Jaguars around $3.5 million under the salary cap. Fatukasi was signed as a free agent before the 2022 season with the hope that he would greatly improve the Jaguars’ run defense.

For a while, he did but when the Jaguars’ defense fell apart during the second half of the 2023 season, Fatukasi became a likely cap casualty. The defensive side of the ball has been under the most intense scrutiny from the Jaguars’ brass this offseason.

Releasing defensive tackle Foley Fatukasi is the first move in the Jaguars’ roster shake-up.

As it stands, DaVon Hamilton is the only true nose tackle remaining on the Jaguars’ roster. Still, with new defensive coordinator Ryan Nielsen taking over, the Jaguars’ defensive front will likely change.

The changes didn’t stop there. The Jaguars also released cornerback Darious Williams and safety Rayshawn Jenkins, saving an additional $16.4 million under the cap.

With the salary cap increasing by $30 million per team this season, the Jaguars have around $44.5 million in cap space (not including Josh Allen’s cap number, more in a moment) as free agency approaches.

Questions still surround two of the Jaguars’ most prominent players: Allen and wide receiver Calvin Ridley.

The Jaguars have publicly discussed their desire to sign Allen to a long-term deal. Spotrac.com estimates that Allen’s deal will be worth $24 million per season, about the same number as Allen would cost under the franchise tag, which the Jaguars placed on Allen on Tuesday.

“We were not able to reach agreement on a contract extension with Josh before today’s deadline and thus, we have tagged him,” Jaguars’ general manager Trent Baalke said in a statement. “We certainly value Josh’s leadership on the field, in the locker room and in the community. Our objective to keep Josh in Jacksonville in the coming years remains unchanged and negotiations will continue.”

The Jaguars used the nonexclusive franchise tag on Allen, meaning that he is free to negotiate with other teams and the Jaguars have the right to match any offer. The Jaguars have until July 15 to agree to a long-term deal with Allen.

A long-term contract of that size can be structured to free up salary cap space in the short-term by including a signing bonus and a smaller annual salary in the early years of the agreement. The Jaguars can still work to get a long-term deal done, but for now, Allen is under contract for one more season under the terms of the franchise tag. Practically speaking, after Allen was tagged, the Jaguars cap space was down to around $20 million but could improve with a new contract for Allen.

Then there is the situation with Ridley. With the salary cap space freed up, the Jaguars can work on a deal with Ridley without any other teams negotiating with him (officially) until next week. Free agency opens on March 13, two days after the negotiation period begins for other teams.

If the Jaguars sign Ridley before the start of the league year, they will have to give up a second-round pick to the Falcons to complete the trade made during the 2022 season. If he signs after March 13 or elsewhere, the Jaguars will give up a third-round pick.

If the Jaguars can’t reach a deal with Ridley, expect the team to draft at least one pass catcher. This year’s receiver class is thought to be particularly strong; without Ridley, the Jaguars would need to add some depth, which includes Christian Kirk, Zay Jones, and 2023 draft pick Parker Washington.

In free agency, look for the Jaguars to turn their attention to the interior defensive line, cornerback, and depth at the offensive line as they rebuild the roster.

Staff Reports


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    March 6, 2024 at 5:44 pm

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  • Jax will implode if they keep subsidizing Jaguars and billionaires

    March 6, 2024 at 7:40 pm

    If jacksonville goes through with stadium financing in addition to shipyards and downtown sports entertainment district (all billionaire profiteer schemes), it will sign the death spiral of borrowing more and more money each year just to pay existing debt, much like the federal deficit. With increased tax burdens and dwindling property ownership rates, this will have the dreaded hollowing out effect of middle class much like the rust belt and Chicago. Neighboring counties will benefit from middle class flight. Jacksonville will not be able to survive this snowball effect. It already can’t even support its infrastructure.

  • Nope

    March 7, 2024 at 12:57 am

    Municipal bonds markets are headed for a bust. Cities relying on borrowed money to service existing debt are in for a big fall. Look it up. Jax needs to get its house in order now. Bleeding money to private profiteers will spell ruin for more than a generation. The mayor’s office is too busy playing prom queen and the city council brain trust is a bunch of spineless boiled potatoes.

  • Tough Love

    March 7, 2024 at 2:24 pm

    if you want to TRULY address the city’s VERY poor financial problem, recognize that any “solution” must include …………. from this day forward ….. very material reductions in the value of future service pension accruals (for CURRENT as well as new workers) and a rapid phase-out of ALL retiree healthcare benefits.

    In fact, EVERY discussion of retirement security for Public sector workers (e.g., pensions and retiree healthcare benefits) MUST included an answer to this questions …”Do Florida’s PRIVATE Sector workers get that” If not, neither should PUBLIC Sector workers.

    • End billionaire welfare

      March 7, 2024 at 5:44 pm

      Agree. It’s more sustainable and logical to pay a fair salary and cut the 20th century lifer status. Private sector workers don’t get squat, but they pay a boat load of taxes. It’s time to bring things in line with standards for the private sector. If you want a pension, join the military. Police and fire are a different bird. But being a government employee should not entitle a lifetime of care over the private sector. It’s just not sustainable.
      That said, the city needs to stop spending like a drunken sailor and get its house in order now. Depriving people of the pension they were promised while spoon feeding billionaire profiteer schemes and raising more taxes is a bad look.

Comments are closed.


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