JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — A Florida bill Jacksonville leaders fear could harm JEA and possibly lead to privatization of the utility is being condemned by city council, but Mayor Lenny Curry is declining to comment on the issue.
City Council unanimously approved a resolution Tuesday night, expressing “strong opposition” to the bill in its current form.
“This is a brick-by-brick pavement paving the way to eventual privatization by weakening public utilities,” said Councilmember Matt Carlucci (R-Group 4 At-Large).
Despite outcry from the council, when we attempted to ask Mayor Lenny Curry about the bill at a press conference Wednesday morning, he declined to take a position.
His office declined to provide a written comment as well.
The legislation, which is moving in the Florida House, proposes a new complex formula capping the max amount of money local governments can receive from the public utilities they own.
If a publicly owned utility has 15% or more of its meters outside the borders of the municipality that owns it, enhanced transfer caps would kick in.
While JEA wouldn’t be subject to the enhanced caps since roughly 87% of its meters are located within Duval County, the utility told Action News Jax it calculated the utility’s contributions to the city budget could be cut by roughly 40% under the base formula proposed in the bill alone.
Last year, JEA contributed about $263 million to the city’s coffers, which equated to about a fifth of the overall budget.
Under the bill, JEA estimated it would only be allowed to transfer about $163 million a year to general revenue.
The bill sponsor argued in committee last week, some publicly owned utilities are being mismanaged and local governments shouldn’t be funding their budgets with money collected from non-residents.
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“We want to make sure today that governments aren’t balancing their political wants on the backs of the ratepayers,” said State Representative Demi Busatta Cabrera.
During last night’s council meeting, some council members expressed hope a JEA carveout could be added to the bill, but it may not be necessary.
While the legislation only has one more committee stop in the House it hasn’t been scheduled for a single hearing in the Senate, though technically nothing is officially dead until state lawmakers close out their session in early May.
CLARIFICATION: Earlier numbers included in this story have been changed to reflect updated estimates on the impact of the legislation on impacts to the city budget provided by JEA.