Pension Reform Journey Ends With Historic Win For Jacksonville
April 25, 2017
City Council Passes Pension Reform Plan Solving Debt Crisis Once and for All
It is a historic day in the city of Jacksonville, as City Council has passed a monumental pension reform plan that finally solves the city’s crippling pension crisis. An 18-month journey supported by local and state legislators, stakeholders, and citizens, Mayor Curry’s solution provides a dedicated revenue stream dedicated to addressing the City’s unfunded liability while shifting taxpayers’ dollars to addressing the most critical priorities of city government including public safety, infrastructure, youth services, neighborhoods and economic development opportunities.
“This is historic, setting an example for our City and the country,” said Mayor Lenny Curry. “Pension reform is the biggest milestone for the City of Jacksonville since consolidation nearly 50 years ago. I thank our City Council, elected officials, citizens, business community, union leaders and membership whose support and contributions have helped us solve Jacksonville's pension crisis in a way that is good for taxpayers and the future of our city. Our city’s financial future is now in our hands, under our control.”
Jacksonville owns 25 percent of the total unfunded pension liability of more than 400 cities and counties throughout the state, paying nearly $300 million for its three public pension funds (Police & Fire Pension Fund, General Employees Pension Fund, Corrections Officers’ Pension Fund). The City contribution to the three pension funds has totaled nearly 25 percent of the City’s operating budget. The total of the unfunded liabilities of the three public pension funds is more than $2.6 billion. The solution proposed by Mayor Curry has afforded Jacksonville the opportunity to extend an already approved surtax that has a sunset date of 2030 to continue for the sole purpose of addressing the unfunded liabilities of the City’s three funds. Revenues from the half-penny sales tax will only be used to pay down pension debt, and the tax will end when the plans are 100 percent funded or by 2060.
Upon election, Mayor Curry committed to citizens that his administration would address the pension -moreliabilities that have long impacted families and communities throughout the city. Mayor Curry immediately began the journey, working alongside his pension reform team, to create a solution that did not add additional burdens to taxpayers. Garnering support from bill sponsors Senators Rob Bradley and Aaron Bean and their House partners, Representatives Travis Cummings and Lake Ray, state legislation provided municipal governments with the ability to extend existing surtax revenue to address pension liability under circumstances that demonstrate a serious potential for financial difficulty. Approval by the Florida House of Representatives was secured Feb. 24, 2016; by the Senate March 9, 2016; and by Governor Rick Scott March 25, 2016.
"I'm happy for the taxpayers of the City, who are the big winners today,” said Senator Rob Bradley. “Representative Cummings and I enjoyed working with Mayor Curry on that portion of the plan that required state approval, and congratulate Lenny and his team for finishing the job."
"A cloud of financial uncertainty has hovered over the City for far too long,” said Representative Travis Cummings. “I want to thank our colleagues in the Florida Legislature for understanding the significance of this issue when Senator Bradley and I worked with the Duval County delegation to pass the necessary legislation in Tallahassee. While this unprecedented pension reform simply does not happen without Mayor Curry's leadership, we cannot give enough credit to his team at City Hall."
With City Council approval, a referendum was placed on the August 2016 ballot giving Jacksonville taxpayers an opportunity to support the pension reform plan. Following months of town hall meetings, presentations and community outreach activities led by Mayor Curry in an effort to educate Jacksonville citizens about the city’s pension crisis, pension reform defied the odds by winning public approval including strong bipartisan support among elected officials, business and community leaders, and the faith-based community who helped achieve a decisive victory at the polls.
Collective bargaining followed as the final step in the process, pending Jacksonville City Council approval. Proposals presented to the bargaining unions recognized that employees had not been fairly compensated, had taken pay cuts and had not received raises in years. The offers presented to union leadership reflected the mayor’s commitment to City employees and the value of their contributions. By late March, all seven unions accepted tentative agreements proposed by the City of Jacksonville through the collective bargaining process. The remaining step would be City Council approval and adoption of the plan.
On April 6, Mayor Curry introduced pension reform legislation and financial analyses to members of the City Council. Following weeks of review and discussions, the pension reform plan was adopted with a unanimous vote by City Council.