At last week’s Jacksonville CityCouncil meeting, two interesting things happened. And neither was the invocation by an atheist, which was about as interesting as a hamburger without meat.
There was an intense discussion about bridges.
In the midst of discussing a bill moved off the Consent Agenda, an extended discussion was held about crumbling bridges around town.
The city has a list of bridges needing repair, ranked in terms of priority; Chief Administrative Officer Sam Mousa noted that the list represents a guideline, and that projects do jump ahead in terms of priority.
Bridges of all description are on the list. The thing that struck me was a comment by Councilman Al Ferraro, who runs a landscaping service and has actually done work under these bridges. He said at least one of them literally crumbles, piece by piece, when cars drive over it, debris falling below.
What became immediately clear: This city needs a lot of money for bridge rehab.
It was also immediately clear that the money ain’t coming. Millage rates are about half what state law allows. And the big local drama is going to be about the pension tax … money to pay off obligations incurred in bygone years and decades, incurred because politicians aren’t willing to pay as they go.
It’s easier to defer maintenance than jack up taxes. That’s why we have page after page of listings of jacked-up bridges — along miles and miles of your daily commute.
The second interesting discussion point was what seemed to be an anodyne bill authorizing allocations in the Jax Journey.
Southside Councilman Scott Wilson spoke up and mentioned that a HUD complex in his district is owned by the same fine folks who own Eureka Garden Apartments. He also stated that the complex has the same issues and could use a cut of that programming money, which is currently earmarked for the 10 lowest-performing ZIP codes in the city.
No dice. Bill Gulliford chimed in to say that there’s an area in his district with the same issues. Perhaps the Journey can be and should be expanded beyond its current purview.
But where does the money come from?
The hope is that the extension of the half-cent sales tax until 2060 will close the gap. The reality is that the city has put these issues off for so long that the real gap, the real infrastructural deficit, simply cannot be calculated.
This is true in most mature cities at this point. Promises made in the 20th century can’t be fulfilled in the 21st. Corners were cut and cut until there was nothing left to cut. This has happened all across the nation; Jacksonville is not unique, though we’ve cut more corners than every other major Florida city. And the chickens, thanks to the hen ordinance, will come home to roost. Here and elsewhere.
Bill Clinton, stumping for his wife on the prez campaign trail, made note of the national crisis. He mentioned last week that Secretary Clinton would put “the awful legacy of the last eight years behind us and the seven years before that, where we were practicing trickle-down economics with no regulation in Washington …”
He, along with Alvin Brown, spoke in similar language in Jacksonville weeks ago. Alvin Brown spoke of the Bill Clinton economic record, of “really putting America back to work,” before introducing Clinton, who delineated the hollowness of the post-2008 recovery.
“The picture the president painted is accurate, but most people don’t see themselves in it,” Clinton said, referring to President Obama extolling his economic numbers in the SOTU.
“We don’t have an economy yet that works for everybody,” Clinton later said, “and even if we did, there are so many barriers.”
Why would Hillary Clinton be positioned not just as the alternative to close family friend George W. Bush, but also to the current president? Because Clinton’s team gets it. The country has not actually recovered from the crash of 2008, which really started around the time Katrina hit in 2005. Jacksonville certainly hasn’t.
We see it around the city. Republicans, by an almost two-to-one margin, abandoning Marco Rubio for Donald Trump. They, as we discussed here last week, voted that way because they are angry … not at Muslims, not at Obama, but at the fact that the middle class into which they were born is disappearing faster than the hairs on their heads.
To placate this so-called silent majority, politicians from Washington to Tallahassee to the St. James Building have given in. The millage rate has been cut so often that Council should be sponsored by X-Acto. Cut so often it doesn’t mean a thing to chop it again.
Except that it does mean something.
It means your roads are jacked up. It means the kids will linger in geographically inconvenient HUD complexes this summer, doing what children do in those situations. It means that everyone in office now is going to have to explain why Jacksonville’s infrastructure looks like that of the cities up north all those Yankees moved to Nocatee to get away from.