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First Coast Connect
Mon February 24, 2014
UNF Polling Shows Strong Opposition To Brown Pension Plan
A new University of North Florida poll is giving local officials an idea of how Jacksonville feels about everything from pension reform to an updating the city's human rights ordinance.
Dr. Michael Binder, UNF assistant professor of political science, joined Melissa Ross on First Coast Connect to break down the results.
The findings are striking—among other issues, the poll reveals that 73 percent of residents oppose a proposal from Mayor Alvin Brown that would require JEA to increase its annual contribution to the city in order to pay the current $1.7 billion unfunded liability the the city owes for its police and fire pension fund.
"The goal of UNF and this polling project is to contribute to the policy debate, we're not here just to do horse race stuff and grab headlines," Binder said, noting that the Jacksonville Retirement Reform Task Force is scheduled to meet this afternoon to propose a finalized plan for paying the unfunded pension obligation.
"JEA has come out and said, 'we can't to this without passing this on to consumer,' and the consumer looks and says, 'I don't want to pay for this in this regard,'" he said of the mayor's proposal.
Binder said he is hopeful that city lawmakers and Mayor Brown will view the results with concern.
The poll also asked residents what policy areas they think city officials should focus on in 2014.
Results show the two areas Jacksonville residents are hoping to see work in this year are improving public education and reducing crime
"The economy has turned around, it's picked up a little bit, so it's not the biggest issue on peoples' minds," Binder said.
"The past year, we've had some red flags with crime," he said. "There's been some increases, we've had some huge cases in the news, particularly last week," he said.
As for education, Binder said there has been some pressure to improve over the last few years.
"It's something people are concerned about, not only for their own kids, but also from the business sector," he said. "The idea that, if you're going to come and start a company here, you're going to want a workforce, and you're going to need an educated workforce, and that starts in the public school system."
Another result, 65 percent of residents polled support an updated city human rights ordinance.
"This issue is not going away," Binder said, noting that residents in Atlantic Beach are set to meet tonight to discuss updating their ordinance. "This is one of those issues where you're going to want to be on the right side of history."
Binder also discussed other recently released polling on upcoming city elections that showed Mayor Alvin Brown's approval rating had dipped 11 points.
He noted that while the mayor's numbers remain high with an approval rating of 59 percent, the drop could be used by political opponents to illustrate a trend towards unpopularity.
"It depends on your perspective on how you want to look at that," he said.
Binder noted that while Brown won in head-to-head election matchups with hypothetical candidates, the wins were with a margin of only between 41 and 45 percent.
UPDATE 2 P.M. - Mayor Alvin Brown's communications director David DeCamp sent out an email email addressed to members of the press shortly after 1 p.m. on the poll results.
In the email, DeCamp says the poll question as posed by UNF does not describe Mayor Brown's proposal.
"His proposal would not 'require' JEA to do something in exchange for nothing," DeCamp writes.
DeCamp noted that Brown does not support a rate increase and that those polled by UNF were not asked about whether they would support the mayor's plan if there was no possibility of a rate increase.
You can follow Melissa Ross on Twitter @MelissainJax.
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