Jacksonville pension tax spared by state lawmakers, pension-funded stadium deal still on table

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The City of Jacksonville dodged a bullet Friday, with the Florida Legislature approving this year’s tax package without language that could have put the city’s pension funding source at risk.


Just before the Florida House took a final vote on the tax package, State Representative Wyman Duggan (R-Jacksonville) asked the bill sponsor if language had been removed that would have required Jacksonville voters reapprove the sales tax that funds the city pension every decade.

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State Representative Stan McClain (R-Ocala) confirmed the language was gone.

“Thank you, thank you, thank you,” Duggan replied.

The mayor’s office thanked legislative leaders for hearing the city’s concerns.

“We are grateful to Speaker Renner’s office for working with our team and the Florida Senate on a solution that ensures this bill did not negatively impact Jacksonville,” said a spokesperson for the mayor’s office in a statement provided to Action News Jax.

If the language hadn’t been removed and the half penny sales tax ever failed to get voter approval, the loss of the revenue could have cost the city billions of dollars over the coming decades.

“We’re basically status quo with the pension tax,” Council President Ron Salem (R-Group 2 At-Large) told Action News Jax after the vote.

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Salem initially took the tax package language as a warning from state lawmakers.

Salem believed they intended to send a message to city leaders after the idea of funding the stadium renovation with the pension fund was floated.

Last week, House Speaker Paul Renner (R-Palm Coast) claimed that wasn’t the case.

“I can definitively say it was absolutely not written with Jacksonville in mind,” said Renner in a press gaggle on February 28th.

Following the vote on the tax package the mayor’s office told Action News Jax a pension-funded stadium deal was, “still one of many potential funding sources on the table”.

Salem said he believes city leaders should think long and hard about the idea before moving forward with the concept, as the legislature could resurrect the threat to the city’s pension sales tax in a future session.

“I have heard from some legislators that do not want the pension touched in this way,” said Salem.

Earlier this week, the topic of a pension-funded stadium deal came up during a council hearing.

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Timothy Johnson, Executive Director of the Jacksonville Police and Fire Pension Fund, testified no official stadium funding proposal has been presented to the pension board.

But he noted he has already gotten feedback from first responders who have heard the idea floated.

“The majority of calls that I’ve gotten have not been in support of it,” said Johnson.

Mike Weinstein, the man tasked with negotiating the stadium deal on behalf of the city, provided council members with some insight detailing what a pension-funded stadium deal could look like.

He explained both the pension board and the city would be able to pull out at any time if the math stopped making sense for either party in the future.

“That way it would look more like an investment than a loan,” said Weinstein.

But Salem argued before any decision on a funding source is reached, a deal needs to be struck with the team.

“So that I can get it and we can begin the education process of the public because that’s a significant component of this, as well as educating all my colleagues,” said Salem.

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