NARRATIVE Drift

Has the Lenny Curry administration lost control of the narrative as his administration nears the halfway mark?

That’s an open question in recent months, as the administration has been buffeted by headwinds.

The earliest example: the first meeting of the Duval County Legislative Delegation, in which the administration launched a $50M ask for money to close the Hart Bridge offramps and route traffic down Bay Street.

At least one delegation member found out about this when the media and everyone else did–during the mayor’s presentation. The cast of rookies on the House side were ill-equipped to carry that request to Tallahassee. And so the big ask became the $15M for septic tank phaseout–carried, tellingly, by Travis Cummings of Orange Park.

Cummings may be ill-positioned to bring home that bacon, however, as he went from the frying pan to the fire by working against Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida, Rick Scott’s incentive programs that bring corporations and tourists here from way out yonder.

Rick Scott came to Northeast Florida thrice in March for the sole purpose of selling incentives. Once to Orange Park where he laid into Cummings before a crowd of the kind of Republicans who otherwise would kiss his ring. Twice to Jacksonville–once at a sign company, once at a National Guard armory–where Gov. Scott indicated his displeasure with our local representatives voting against jobs.

Should he have been pissed? Yep. Rick Scott was here for a lot of job announcements, both for Alvin Brown and Lenny Curry, and local representatives thanked him by kicking him between the slats.

I asked Scott and Curry if their PACs were going to go in on these dissident legislators. Neither will spend, but the divergence in tone was notable.

Curry called it a major disagreement. Scott, meanwhile, said that at some point he’d get a budget … and would ensure that all dollars are “spent wisely.”

In the words of state Sen. Rob Bradley, “Governor Scott has an underrated sense of humor.”

Meanwhile, those on the governor’s email list have noticed a decline in the type of job announcements that became almost boring in recent years. Growth is slowing because Jacksonville is ill-equipped to recruit big business without incentives.

We are not Tampa, Orlando, Miami. We are Dothan, Greenville, Little Rock. We have to pay to play. And like a lunchtime customer at a gentleman’s club, we can’t be all that choosy.

These representatives know this. But they also don’t want to go against the speaker of the house is. This includes state house Democrats Tracie Davis and Kim Daniels. Daniels appeared, as a councilwoman, at job creation events with Scott. She should know we need incentives. Same with Clay Yarborough, who had eight years in there.

Ask those folks jobbed out at CSX–which essentially jobbed out a big chunk of its institutional knowledge, taking a Logan’s Run approach to employee management that led to them going younger, cheaper, and looking like an acquisition target in the next few years. Would they like a corporation to come to Jax and bring a few hundred jobs? Bet your ass they would. 

With there being a very open question about what Jacksonville will get out of Tallahassee this session, it’s important for the mayor’s office to sell its pension reform effectively. So far, the narrative has stalled.

The completed collective bargaining with the unions was certainly significant. Yet the administration has proven unwilling to show its work, specifically related to how much more this pension reform will cost the city than the projections rendered last year (with a 12 percent city contribution on a defined contribution plan for new hires, rather than the 25 percent). And how much more it will cost than the current trajectory.

Tad Delegal, whose wife is a longtime Folio Weekly contributor, ran numbers and posited the city could spend $662M more between now and 2031 on the Curry plan than it would on the Alvin Brown plan. 

It would be easy for the administration to pour cold water on that narrative. The administration drives itself on a data-driven approach to every possible political question.

So why then the reticence on data affecting a huge part of the city’s budget, a sum that precludes investments into all manner of amenities enjoyed in Nocatee and Fleming Island and the Villages? Hell, a sum that precludes filling in the potholes.

The administration probably has council on board, and can keep them there for a few weeks until the vote; last week, everyone who met with the administration came out saying all the right things. And for much of the press, the details of the plan won’t matter. It’s not like pension is the hot assignment on the TV side.

The mayor ran as a numbers guy–as a fiscal discipline guy. It’s time for a lot more clarity on how the numbers work out, including the optimistic projections of sales tax growth. Thursday needs to offer that. And the clarification that is needed before the council votes in a few weeks.

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