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Jacksonville council members, financial experts cast doubt on proposed Jaguars’ stadium payment plan

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The way the city plans to pay for the proposed stadium renovation has been met with some pushback by members of the city council.

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That’s because the plan would cause a four-year delay in funding the pension plan with the half-penny sales tax.

The question is where that half penny would be better spent- Funding the pension or paying for capital projects?

The answer will determine the fate of more than half a billion in taxpayer dollars over those four years.

To pay for the Stadium of the Future, Mayor Donna Deegan wants to finance the city’s share of the $1.25 billion renovation through the Capital Investment Plan (CIP).

Additionally, the city would move other capital projects from the CIP and put them into the Better Jacksonville Plan (BJP).

Instead of financing those projects, they’d be paid for by the half-penny sales tax.

Mike Weinstein, the city’s chief negotiator on the stadium deal, argued it would save taxpayers $1.5 billion in debt service.

“The same projects will be done under the same schedule. They’ll just be paid for as they’re being worked on rather than borrow the money to pay for them as they’re being worked on,” said Weinstein.

But there’s a catch.

The half-cent tax generated roughly $130 million this past year alone.

Currently, the BJP is on track to be fully funded by 2027.

When that happens, the annual revenues from the half-cent tax will start offsetting the cost of the city’s pension fund.

But under the mayor’s proposal, that start date would be pushed back to 2031.

“We went to the voters a couple of years ago and said, hey listen, let’s extend this tax so that we can take care of our police officers and our firefighters and their retirement and now they want to put that off for four years. That is both dangerous and just dishonest,” said Councilmember Rory Diamond (R-District 13).

The delay would force the city to cover the full cost of the pension fund over those four years, without help from the sales tax.

“It’s largely a question of, will the return on that investment be higher than the borrowing rate?” said Jay Ritter with the Warrington College of Business at the University of Florida.

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Ritter argued taxpayers would get a better bang for their buck by putting the sales tax revenue towards the pension fund sooner, rather than later.

But he calculated the monetary difference between the two options wouldn’t exactly be eye-popping.

“$13 million isn’t a number to sneeze at, but it’s not going to result in taxpayers saving so much money that they can go out and start partying,” said Ritter.

The Deegan Administration noted the Better Jax Plan was originally supposed to sunset at the end of 2030.

Efforts under the Curry Administration pushed that date up to the end of 2026.

A former member of the Curry administration, who spoke on background, told us the decision to push up the sunset date was made to improve the financial health of both the city and the pension fund.

Weinstein and Deegan both have maintained the pension would not be impacted by the proposed financing plan and that it would be fully funded in the end.

“Can it be that simple? Can we save that amount of money and still do what we need to do? And the answer is yes,” said Deegan.

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