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CM Becton Votes Against Bill 2018-594 After Council Denies Amendment to Add Addressing City Pension Debt to List of Priorities

Jacksonville, FL (January 8, 2019) – Councilman Becton voted against bill resolution 2018-594 after Council denied his proposed floor amendment at the first City Council meeting of the new year. The bill by resolutions, formally adopts a City Council 1-year, 3-year and 5-year non-binding strategic plan.

According to the resolution’s bill summary, a City Council strategic planning meeting was held in June of 2018 to discuss the council’s top priorities for the next few years. Council Members were invited to submit issues of priority prior to the event and to offer additional issues for consideration from the floor on the day of the session. The issues were divided into 1-, 3- and 5-year goals and then council members could cast a limited number of votes per time period for the top issues of their choice. The highest vote-getters are intended to help focus the Council’s attention and develop a shared sense of priorities when making decisions to have the greatest impact on the highest priority areas.”

The Jacksonville City Council is constantly working on ways to improve the City of Jacksonville, along with many local organizations and leaders in the community. However, a big issue not addressed throughout these discussions and ultimately not in this legislation is the city’s unfunded pension liability.

The 1, 3, and 5-year goals were listed in the legislation, as follows: Year 1 goals - comprehensive crime reduction inventory; - increase park maintenance; - develop and enhance downtown’s public spaces; - develop Mayport Master Plan for Mayport Village; -establish a homeless resource center; and addressing regulatory framework and infrastructure regarding resiliency, flood prevention and control and drainage.

Among the 3-year goals, these include: – to develop a comprehensive capital reinvestment plan; - Initiate and fund the next phase of the Jacksonville Journey; - accelerate downtown activation; - complete projects such as the St. Johns River Park, perform arts venue, waterfront park and Emerald Necklace; - Reduce homeless population; - continue deliberate effort to eliminate septic tanks; - increase affordable and workforce housing by at least 200 units per year; and - develop Mayport Riverfront and Mayport Village.

The 5-year goals are listed in the legislation as follows: - establish Jacksonville as the safest urban center in the country; - become the cleanest city in the country and most attractive city to visitors; and - develop and fund resilience strategy for natural disasters, economic and environmental threats.”

Bill 2018-594 was the first item out of 18 on the Consent Agenda that evening, in which Councilman Becton pulled the bill as it was read off.

As the bill was taken up, Councilman Becton took the floor to explain his reasoning and stated the following:

“It concerns me how a blind eye continues to be turned to the future financial health of this city as it relates to Pension Debt of the Unfunded Liability. In Eleven years, this debt is coming due. While we passed Pension Reform last year, the reality is, we have only have kicked this issue down the road to future taxpayers. While paying only a minimal amount each year toward the pension unfunded liability, this debt will continue to grow and grow well beyond any future contribution of the sales tax revenue stream can cover.

As the Pension Unfunded Liability is projected to be $10 billion dollars in 2030, the sale tax revenue stream is only estimated to account for $4 Billion of that amount. This leaves future generations of taxpayers on the hook for an estimated debt of $6 Billion Dollars. That is Six Billion compared to our current $2.8 Billion as of today.

 In looking at investment returns, if the first year of returns in 2017-18 made anyone complacent, please let the recent market remind us that there are always bumpy roads to go along with the good ones.

 This past year has resulted in the worse market since 2008. December was the worse since the great depreciation of 1931 as the S&P and Dow were down approximately 9% and the year-ending market was down about 6%.

 Again, if you continue to think that this is an exception of future market returns, let’s factor in that the Federal Debt is $22 Trillion dollars and growing. Certainly, a factor to affect future markets and economic conditions.

 My ask, this evening is for bill 2018-594 to take this concern seriously and to not let the legacy of this council be that of the Councils in the 2000 where the excuse was ‘Hind Sight is 20/20’.

Let’s be responsible, let’s be accountable and let’s make it a priority to make sure that future generations are not penalized by our politics and our short sightedness of today. Let’s look at the realities of history to make sure whatever happens, we have guaranteed that future.

 For this reason, I am asking to move a Floor Amendment to modify this bill and to add the goal of “Address the Pension Unfunded Liability Debt” to our Year-1 priorities.”

Councilman Becton to this regard, moved the floor amendment as it was granted a second. As a hand vote was taken, the floor amendment was denied by a vote of 14 -5.

“It is really disappointing the council did not add this concern to the priority of city council,” Councilman Becton shared in his closing remarks after the amendment failed. “In not doing so, the actions for which I now must take are unfortunate.” Becton added.

“I did want to support this bill with all the work that was put into it,” Councilman Becton continued. “But as a matter of principal, I think this issue rises to be one of the most important concerns this city should be working towards a resolution. It is for that reason I am going to have to vote against this bill.”

City Council passed the bill with a vote of 17 to 2.

This is not the first time City Council has neglected the city’s pension unfunded liability debt. In April of 2017, Councilman Becton filed bill 2017-348, named the “Pension Extra-Contribution Bill”, upon immediate passage of the pension reform bills passed by council. If approved, the bill would have called for using a small portion, up to 15 percent of revenue growth that occurs each year, to be used for making extra payments to this debt. By doing this today, it was estimated that we could have help pay down this debt in the amount of over $350 million dollars by 2030.”

Despite Councilman Becton’s best efforts then to help address this debt, and after months of public meetings, City Council denied bill 2017-348 by a 12-5 vote.

Bill 2018-584 

2018-594 Exhibit 1

Read more about the legislation and timeline of 2017-348 here:

By Tiziana Onstead, District 11 Executive Council Assistant