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City Investment In Downtown Jax On Hold Until Pension Reform Passes, creative commons

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry says there’ll be no new investments in downtown development until the city can achieve pension reform.

The JAX Chamber says it’s all hands on deck to make sure state lawmakers pass the pension bill.

On Thursday, Curry said with a fifth of the city's operating budget going to pay down the debt, it'd be foolish to spend money on downtown.

"We're spending almost $300 million right now a year on something that does not make you safe, does not pave your roads, does not make your neighborhood better, does not provide the basic services you should expect as a citizen," Curry said. "I inherited this problem, but the days of kicking it down the road are gone. I'm committed to solving it."

JAX Chamber’s Matt Galnor said that’s why the business community is watching the Legislature as it considers reforms that would later be put to a referendum vote in Duval County.

“I think that this just emphasizes how important it is and how critical it is to solve the pension problem facing our city,” Galnor said. “Solving the pension problem frees up hundreds of millions of dollars that could be invested in other parts of the city.”

Curry’s proposal would extend a half-cent sales tax to help pay down the city’s liability. If Tallahassee gives it the OK, the City Council would then need to approve it before it could appear on a local ballot.

When asked what the chamber would do if the pension reform measure fails, Galnor refused to speculate and instead said JAX Chamber is in a “wait-and-see" mode.

Under Curry’s proposal, the half-cent sales tax extension would begin in 2030, and future firefighters and police officers would be enrolled in private 401k-style retirement plans.

Both the Senateand House versions of the pension bill have a couple more committees before going before the full Legislature for approval.

Ryan Benk is a former WJCT News reporter who joined the station in 2015 after working as a news researcher and reporter for NPR affiliate WFSU in Tallahassee.