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Some question if Mayor Alvin Brown can take the lead on heavy political lifts

Posted: January 25, 2014 - 11:47pm  |  Updated: January 25, 2014 - 11:53pm
Mayor Alvin Brown says he is heading into his "final burst of momentum" toward pension reform.  Bruce.Lipsky@jacksonville.com  Bruce Lipsky
Bruce Lipsky
Mayor Alvin Brown says he is heading into his "final burst of momentum" toward pension reform. Bruce.Lipsky@jacksonville.com

Applause rolled through the council chambers at Jacksonville City Hall when Mayor Alvin Brown vowed the time had come to tackle comprehensive pension reform “in a fair and sustainable way.”

“Jacksonville cannot follow the path of Stockton, Calif. and Harrisburg, Pa.,” Brown said in his July 2012 budget address, citing two cities that declared bankruptcy. “Jacksonville will not be part of America’s failures.”

Eighteen months later, Brown heads into a crucial phase of his term as he faces twin challenges that will be heavy political lifts — achieving pension reform and reviving development in the Northbank core of downtown.

Both will come with financial costs, though how much remains unclear.

On pension reform, Brown faces skeptics who question whether he can take the lead in getting it across the finish line.

And there’s mounting pressure on Brown to consider a tax hike to fix the pension dilemma, something Brown has steadfastly said he won’t back.

Former mayors Tommy Hazouri and John Delaney said that based on how Brown has handled decisions on the city’s budget, they expect the hard choices on pension reform will be made by the council.

Hazouri, a Democrat who served one term as mayor, said the City Council “bit the bullet” when it agreed to raise the property tax rate to prevent $61 million in cuts affecting services such as police, fire departments, libraries and parks.

The council took control of the budget-writing process after it rejected Brown’s first pension proposal. Brown said his plan would have saved $45 million in this year’s budget, but council members said he didn’t do enough to get on top of pension costs in future years.

Hazouri said Brown hasn’t been in charge of the budget process and that could spill over to the pension issue.

“I think he has the personality, but I don’t think he has the leadership skills to bring all the people together, especially the council,” Hazouri said. “He can’t just keep dumping things in the council’s lap. Otherwise, they’re going to make those decisions, and I think that’s where it’s going to end up. They’ll come up with their own plan.”

Delaney, a Republican who served two terms as mayor, said pension reform is shaping up as a repeat of the budget showdown last year, with City Council in the driver’s seat.

“They took over the budget and now they’re on the verge of taking over pension reform,” Delaney said. “Right now, pension reform is sort of out of the executive branch’s hands.”

He said the “question of the hour” is how Brown will handle the recommendations delivered by the 16-member pension reform task force that Brown established last summer as a way to find a solution.

The task force will make its recommendations next month, and its members have been considering a tax increase as an option.

Brown said he is optimistic about the task force’s work and he’s convinced the city will get a successful outcome.

“No other mayor in the history of our city has taken on a challenge like this in his first term,” he said. “I’ve been taking on the tough issues for the city and retirement reform is one of them. I am providing the leadership to get this done.”

‘A TALL ORDER’

Matt Carlucci, a Republican who served 12 years on City Council and was on Brown’s mayoral transition team, said the mayor should follow the advice of the task force, even if it means breaking his “no new taxes” pledge.

“There does come a point in time where you have to do what’s right for the city, what’s right for future generations and let the chips fall where they may,” Carlucci said.

He said the political fallout from failing to solve the pension problem would far exceed breaking the anti-tax pledge.

“He’s either going to break a promise by not solving the pension plan or he’s going to break a promise by raising taxes, unless he can find another way,” Carlucci said. “If he had to give a little on taxes, I think the majority of people in Jacksonville would swallow that.”

Brown said his stance on taxes isn’t going to change.

“I’ve always said that I’m going to look at every option and recommendation the task force comes up with,” he said. “Having said that, everybody knows I’m against raising taxes. That’s no secret. We’re still a fragile economy in Jacksonville.”

He pointed to the rise of foreclosure actions by Habitat for Humanity of Jacksonville as an example of how residents are struggling to stay afloat.

“We don’t have to raise taxes every time to solve the problem,” he said. “We say we’re a pro-business city. You’ve got a pro-business mayor. We want to attract businesses to grow and expand in Jacksonville.”

Eric Smith, a Democrat who served 20 years on the City Council, said Brown can keep his pledge on taxes and also drive the agenda for pension reform and downtown development.

“It’s a tall order to get both of those done,” Smith said. “He’s certainly not afraid of tough challenges. It’s problematic because both those things have to go through City Council, and that makes it an even taller order. But I certainly think it’s doable.”

City Council dealt Brown a double-barreled defeat last July when it rejected his first proposed pension plan and agreed on the same night to build the 2013-14 budget around a higher tax rate.

Smith said Brown needs to improve his working relationship with council members. But he added the mayor has built up a “strong credibility base” among residents.

“The average person out there like people who keep their word,” he said. “He said no new taxes, and he’s kept his word, amid a lot of criticism.”

DOWNTOWN

As Brown heads into what he’s called the “final burst of momentum” for pension reform, he also committed this month to support an ambitious plan to rebuild The Jacksonville Landing on the downtown riverfront.

Toney Sleiman, a co-owner of The Landing, said he’d like to have an economic development agreement approved by City Council over the summer so he can start work by the end of the year.

“I’ve never seen the stars line up so well as they are today,” Sleiman said. “The mayor is 100 percent behind it and yes, I think he’s going to get it done. His heart’s in it, and he wants to change downtown.”

JAX Chamber President Daniel Davis is equally bullish, saying the Landing’s owners, Brown and City Council all want to see a successful downtown.

“All the entities want to bring something that’s winnable, and I think the mayor is going to have success in that realm,” he said.

But no costs have been attached yet to the redevelopment, which is in the concept stage. Gulliford said it surprised him that Brown guaranteed the project would get done when the city’s share of the project is unknown.

“How much is that and where’s it going to come from?” Gulliford said.

He lodged the same criticism of the pension proposal Brown gave to the pension task force last week.

Brown’s office said his proposal would reduce the city’s general fund payments to the Police and Fire Pension Fund by $130 million over five years and save $2.75 billion over 35 years.

His plan would require police and firefighters to pay more toward their retirement and make changes in their pension benefits. Brown also called on JEA, the city-owned utility, to contribute $40 million a year for 14 years to stabilize the finances of the Police and Fire Pension Fund.

Council President Bill Gulliford said Brown was trying to “create magic” with the JEA part of his plan.

“Let’s all be truthful,” Gulliford said. “It’s just not plausible. It wasn’t even negotiated in-depth [with JEA] and then you throw it out as an alternative? Come on. What kind of leadership is that?”

Brown said the talks with JEA are continuing.

“There are a lot of ideas going to the task force,” he said. “I think it’s unfair to the task force to come up with a judgment on something when it hasn’t been vetted out. Let them go through the process.”

Brown hasn’t decided when he will go back to City Council with his pension reform plan, but he said the city needs to act quickly so bond-rating agencies know the pension system is on the right track.

University of North Florida political science professor Matt Corrigan said Brown “deserves credit” for tackling a politically difficult issue in his first term, and Brown has a real opportunity because there is strong consensus for pension reform.

“Doing nothing is really not an option,” he said.

Bill Scheu, chairman of the pension reform task force, said Brown has shown leadership and been engaged with the task force’s work.

He said he doesn’t know if Brown will endorse all of the task force’s recommendations, but it’s not all on Brown’s shoulders to get long-term reform.

“I think all of us have to pull it off, and my feeling is that working together, we’ll come up with a comprehensive plan,” Scheu said. “I think we have to call it as we see it, and hopefully we’ll use judgment in that so we pull all the parties together.”

 

david.bauerlein@jacksonville.com, (904) 359-4581

nate.monroe@jacksonville.com, (904) 359-4289

Comments (20)

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uhwarrior6608
64
Points
uhwarrior6608 01/26/14 - 08:32 am
0
0

No, I don't believe "a

No, I don't believe "a majority" of Jacksonville homeowners will support breaking the pledge of no property tax increases to solve this problem. Jacksonville citizens made that abundantly clear when they voted this clown into office; he was probably the better choice given the lack of suitable opposition. The other candidates at the time were pro-tax increases... The FBC bible thumper and the Moron err I mean Audrey. Pension reform involves much more than simply raising taxes and kicking the can down the street for other people to deal with in the future.

Right for jax
1095
Points
Right for jax 01/26/14 - 09:04 am
0
0

@ uhwarrior6608,

@ uhwarrior6608, Specifically, : how would you solve this since you don't want to as the worn out phrase goes"kick the can down the road" ?? by the way, the mayor did not make a no new property tax pledge, he made a NO NEW TAXES pledge. No taxes at all. No jea rate increase included.

Mockingjay
1020
Points
Mockingjay 01/26/14 - 10:05 am
0
0
Premium Member

The city spent the money that

The city spent the money that was supposed to go to these pensions and it is the city that continued to buy millions upon millions of assets, including artwork, during the same time AND STILL IS!!!

The Tax Payers OWN well over a BILLION dollars in artwork at JUST the main library and citizenry should be demand it be sold off FIRST before telling US, WE NEED TO PAY FOR IT AGAIN!!!!

"WE, The People", own way too much in assets for the city to be telling US we need to anti up AGAIN!

Distant Karma
319
Points
Distant Karma 01/26/14 - 10:25 am
0
0
Premium Member

Are there a couple of Monet

Are there a couple of Monet paintings hidden behind the stacks? I can't find anything that verifies there is a billion dollars worth of art at the Main Library.

floridakrakker2
1737
Points
floridakrakker2 01/26/14 - 10:50 am
0
0
Premium Member

Yup - that's right - raise

Yup - that's right - raise taxes - there you go. What a novel idea.

I see massive waste and unnecessary spending in the school system and you can bet your a** there is as much if not more in the city.

So they raise taxes, get the problem fixed - are they going to reduce taxes and give us our money back when its over, particularly when values on homes rise - OF COURSE NOT!!! Just more gravy and money to spend.

WOO HOO!

Lie Detector
2403
Points
Lie Detector 01/26/14 - 11:19 am
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0

"some question". Is this the

"some question". Is this the same "someone" who helped Littlepage with his pension article? What a revealing story. Everyone already knows Alvin can't lift his arms to brush his own hair let alone deal with major issues affecting our city.

Mockingjay
1020
Points
Mockingjay 01/26/14 - 11:35 am
0
0
Premium Member

distant karma checkout the

distant karma checkout the fourth floor of the main library.

Take a gander at JUST the maps and see what Im talking about ... then look around further and see how much art we own and how much money was spent while the city put US in MAJOR DEBT.

THEN start looing at all the rest of the libraries and ALL the public buildings that contain art of some sort and realize just how rich we are in assets...not even including the land that can be sold off.

ITS incredible!

lilrio
4715
Points
lilrio 01/26/14 - 12:06 pm
0
0
Premium Member

I wonder if I should just try

I wonder if I should just try and sell my house and get what I can and move to St Johns or Clay County.

johnctaughtme
11969
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johnctaughtme 01/26/14 - 12:10 pm
0
0
Premium Member

This article and others

This article and others recently, show that what much of the discussion of both the pension fund and downtown issues is really about is philosophy, posturing, and positioning. Elections are coming up, and along with the Mayor seeking re-election, no doubt some City Council members are eying other constitutional offices. Other cities such as Denver and Phoenix have developed solutions for these and a host of other issues. But, posturing and positioning for office rarely brings solutions.

Increased revenue need not always indicate increased taxes. This same newspaper reports increased home sales, and a higher recovery from the recession than elsewhere. At some point, this should bring more revenue without higher taxes. What the discussion by all of these politicians as well as the media does not seem to include is bringing better jobs, and more substantial and significant employers to Jacksonville, as was done in the late 1950's through the 1960's. A less affluent workforce and population has perhaps a more detrimental effect on business than it does government. This might be a more subtle and less-noticed cause of the decline of some shopping malls and other businesses.

Mockingjay
1020
Points
Mockingjay 01/26/14 - 01:54 pm
0
0
Premium Member

Johnc this years Budget does

Johnc this years Budget does includes hypothetical bloated revenue expectations.

I know you have access to the auditors reports that prove the city IS NOT taking in what the mayor is relying on as he continues to spend money WE DONT HAVE.

The city is constantly spending more than is brought in and running in the deficit quarter after quarter taking money from the next years General Fund revenue.

The recovery is NOT what it is being made to be. Remember the city financed more court rooms accommodate high foreclosures in the area and people ARE still losing jobs most likely leading to more foreclosures.

The city also continues to Bond money against the credit card Banking Fund. It along with other way old Bonds the city paid OVER $100 million in interest last year.

There is not enough revenue generated to cover the pension issue. But the city keeps spending money, bonding us into further debt (over $5 billion now) and pretending nothing is amiss. THEN whines about creditors threatening to lower our rating, which is ONLY BECAUSE OF THE CITY LEADERSHIP spending and BONDING OUT MORE THEN WHAT CAN BE PAID BACK.

The pension issue is ONLY one part of the citys massive debt it has created for the community. Creditors ARE NOT watching JUST the pension issue its the whole package of debt city leadership continues to put us in

Mathew1056
99
Points
Mathew1056 01/26/14 - 02:01 pm
0
0

Raise taxes, Please! Show the

Raise taxes, Please! Show the world that we can be a stable city that has the ability to offer public goods and services. We will continue to flounder if not.

Mathew1056
99
Points
Mathew1056 01/26/14 - 02:01 pm
0
0

Raise taxes, Please! Show the

Raise taxes, Please! Show the world that we can be a stable city that has the ability to offer public goods and services. We will continue to flounder if not.

Mockingjay
1020
Points
Mockingjay 01/26/14 - 02:04 pm
0
0
Premium Member

In the citys selfish in your

In the citys selfish in your face arrogance after recently refinancing many, many Bonds, DID NOT take the savings and pay toward the Bonds. THEY SPENT IT AND CONTINUE TO SPEND ALL THE EXTRA MONEY

Some of these Bonds are 40 years or more old. WHY ARENT THEY PAID OFF?!?!?!?!?

WHY IS THE CITY LEADERSHIP CREATING THIS HARDSHIP ON THIS COMMUNITY?

johnctaughtme
11969
Points
johnctaughtme 01/26/14 - 02:29 pm
0
0
Premium Member

"Rebel" there is a broad

"Rebel" there is a broad range of opinion here, all of which may contain at least some elements of truth and fact. Another element of the City's finance and budgeting process though, is that reducing certain services, even to a ridiculous, dangerous point, really doesn't save what is often purported, or they would bring other costs to citizens, such as increased insurance rates.

If hypothetically (and again, ridiculously) the entire police and fire/rescue departments could be eliminated, it would not sell one more home, car, truck, bag of groceries, or any other good or service. Downtown improvement might do more for business, if as in many decades past, it was part of a city-wide plan or vision, not neglecting other neighborhoods, and bringing the right kind of companies and jobs to Jacksonville.

Again I note though, that the search for solutions seems to be obfuscated by philosophy, politics, and posturing, especially when viewed in the context of coming elections. Hence the emphasis here and in so many other articles, on only the police and fire pension, as well as downtown. They are useful as "hot-button" issues, for the media and politicians alike.

uhwarrior6608
64
Points
uhwarrior6608 01/26/14 - 02:51 pm
0
0

@ Right for jax: I'm not

@ Right for jax: I'm not opposed to raising taxes to temporarily solve this problem... I'm opposed to raising property taxes but not opposed to raising sales taxes, so that everyone can contribute to city employees. Especially those people that use certain services more than others... Perhaps a 10% sales tax on basketball shoes sold within Duval County... Those taxes going to contribute towards the JSO pensions. Maybe a fee-for-service as well; 911 is called for Bertha and Billy Bob because Bertha threw Billy Bob's spitoon at him because he was cheating with the neighbor two trailers down the street, they should pay a fee for the response. Apartment dwellers that thump their music too loud and the cops are called - fee. Etc. Etc. Meanwhile, work to transition everyone to 401Ks like so many people have said before...

johnctaughtme
11969
Points
johnctaughtme 01/26/14 - 05:57 pm
0
0

The extent of the philosophy,

The extent of the philosophy, politics, and posturing as they involve the pension issue is demonstrated in part by the fact that none of the politicians, committees, councils, task forces, etc. will fully explain why many of them have moved away from the idea of 401(k)'s or other similar individual investment types of incidents, just as they don't mention putting police and fire, or for that matter, all employees into the Florida Retirement System. There economic issues which go beyond the "golden handcuffs".

Right for jax
1095
Points
Right for jax 01/26/14 - 07:35 pm
0
0

@urwarrior6608: I appreciate

@urwarrior6608: I appreciate your honest reply. I do not disagree except that sales taxes can only be used for capital improvement projects. ( construction of buildings , roads ect... Jea profits should be returned to the rate payers because it is a utility. So there is not much left except property taxes or reducing city services. All this talk about wasteful art spending is silly. Cutting that out is a drop in the bucket on this.

Mockingjay
1020
Points
Mockingjay 01/26/14 - 08:00 pm
0
0
Premium Member

Johnc another good point you

Johnc another good point you make is the fact the city continues to piece meal development where by NOW the DIA should have a plan that does indeed encompass the entire city as well as the urban core.

The city leadership is our own worst enemy. All talk, no show, basically cowards against by the likes of the chamber, JCC, Vision Jacksonville, etc., while as you say they continue to throw philosophy, posturing, and positioning at their constituents trying to make us believe their propaganda.

Public Trust has NEVER been lower and yet city leadership continues to wonder why

Right for jax
1095
Points
Right for jax 01/26/14 - 10:07 pm
0
0

@rebel. I think you should be

@rebel. I think you should be in leadership. You really seem to have a lot of good ideas.

Anotherday
338
Points
Anotherday 01/27/14 - 10:23 am
0
0
Premium Member

I am sure that Detroit has

I am sure that Detroit has already tried raising taxes again! how's that working out for you! We have so much waste it is ridiculous! We even have a bridge between buildings so Angela does not need to walk with her subjects. a court house that would suffice for the entire state, and enough waterfront property for an entire township.

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