PURE POLITICS

On March 9, the Florida Senate voted35-1 to approve the discretionary sales surtax bill, which would allow the city of Jacksonville to impose a pension tax through a referendum if the bill is signed into law.

This is big, if you care about reserving the city’s general fund for things other than the ballooning pension obligation.

After a smooth second reading of the bill on March 8, and three clean committee stops on the Senate side, there was little drama involving the bill … a far cry from the worries expressed by senior staff in City Hall months ago when this process was launched.

Let’s recap some details. The bill would allow a referendum in Duval County later this year regarding extending, until 2060, the half-cent Better Jacksonville Plan infrastructure sales tax from its sunset date, which currently is no later than 2030, to help defray the $2.6 billion unfunded pension liability. In the process, the current defined benefit plan would be closed, and a defined contribution model would extend to all new hires going forward. A 10 percent employee contribution would be required. And the Police & Fire Pension Fund Board of Trustees would be barred from collective bargaining negotiations of pension benefits, which actually accords with practice in Jacksonville since June 2015’s pension reform.

The House version of the bill passed 86 to 23 in February.

The big question now is the dispensation of Rick Scott, the most hard-to-read politician in Florida history, as colorless as a pair of khakis and unpredictable as an old cat.

As I have noted in this space, this demonstrates that there are advantages to playing the partisan game as Lenny Curry has done.

During his campaign for mayor, he was often called the “party boss.” Those relationships came into play throughout this process. Curry, by personally lobbying dozens of legislators ahead of and during the session, was able to make a pitch that previous mayors — especially those who, say, hadn’t run a state party — couldn’t make.

The pension tax is not a new idea. It’s been around for years. But this particular mayor, with his particular brand of political capital, has been essential in pushing it through.

Also essential: Curry’s PAC, Build Something That Lasts. In the few months since it began, it’s raised about a half-million dollars. And it has strategically spent its money.

How strategically? 

“Since its inception, Build Something That Lasts has made $141k in contributions to PACs related to Tallahassee elected officials, including contributing to House and Senate campaign arms, the Governor’s PAC, and an additional $11k in campaign contributions to members’ campaigns. In short, 69 percent of all money raised by this PAC has gone to support Tallahassee and the political process.”

It didn’t take any digging to expose this information. For one, it’s all in the public record. For another, the quotation above was from the PAC email, sent to supporters and beyond, hours after the 35-1 vote in the Senate.

This is pure politics, transparent as a new window pane. It’s exactly how the game is played.

Curry, when running for office, said Jacksonville needed to do a better job getting its cut from Tallahassee. We haven’t seen the Governor’s veto pen so far; there’s always plenty of ink in it, and that ink is made from distilled grievance, so we may be just as screwed in terms of apportionments as we were last year. Or maybe not.

It’s telling that the pension tax sales job was handled on the Senate side by Rob Bradley and on the House side by Travis Cummings. They aren’t members of the Duval Delegation, a group whose local members have been underwhelming, as a whole, in terms of bringing projects home. The Tampa area and the Miami area win their fights much more often than Duval does in a less populated area.

Jim King is dead and gone and he ain’t coming back.

Curry’s PAC will be interesting to watch: It’s the first campaign finance report I look for month in and month out. Seeing who gives is always a fun pastime. But how the PAC spends, as far as marketing this referendum and noting which candidates receive contributions, is more so.

It will be interesting to see how that PAC weighs in on area State House races in the coming months. Could candidates like Donnie Horner in HD 11 and Jason Fischer in HD 16 get a boost? More than likely. Curry likes young “bold” Republicans. They remind him of himself.

Something to watch: how that PAC weighs in to the HD 12 race. Curry and Clay Yarborough are not close. Richard Clark shares consultants with the other two candidates just mentioned, but who knows if he’ll stay in the race? Terrance Freeman, Aaron Bowman’s executive council assistant, may be in the mix.

About EU Jacksonville

october, 2021

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