The Jacksonville City Council has voted 5-13 against an amendment that would have required voter approval for a proposed 6-cent gas tax increase.
As proposed, the legislation would raise the current gas tax from 6- to 12-cents a gallon to fund infrastructure projects, freeing up previously budgeted city funds for a septic tank removal program. The amendment would have set a voter referendum on the proposal for Aug. 2022.
District 5 City Councilwoman LeAnna Cumber, one of the supporters of the amendment, said the council should seek voter approval for the tax increase, citing the referendum on the Duval half-cent sales tax increase in 2020.
“I know that people would like a chance to be able to weigh in on whether they want their taxes raised or not,” she said.
District 9 City Councilman Garrett Dennis said voter approval is not legally required for the council to raise the gas tax, and that council members are elected to make these types of decisions.
“There is a referendum every four years,” he said. “That referendum is when voters go out to vote when we’re on the ballot.”
A recent UNF poll found most Jacksonville residents oppose the gas tax increase with 58% of respondents saying they either strongly or somewhat oppose a bill that would allocate funds from that gas tax to increase road and transportation improvements. However, 68% said they strongly or somewhat approved reallocating funds freed up by the gas tax increase to go toward septic tank phase-out projects.
At-Large Group 4 City Councilman Matt Carlucci said the proposal should be looked at as an investment in the city, not just a tax. He also said the proposal did not belong on a 2022 ballot.
“There are times you strap it on and you have to put your head down like a fullback to get to the line of scrimmage,” he said. “This is one of those times.”
The Jacksonville City Council also voted 14-4 to approve an amendment to its 6-cent gas tax increase proposal to allocate $132 million to the Emerald Trail.
The Emerald Trail is a planned 30-mile bicycle/pedestrian trail and park system across 14 Jacksonville urban core neighborhoods. The $132 million is enough to fund the current budget of the project, said Carlucci, who introduced the amendment.
Carlucci said the trail will set up business opportunities and connect neighborhoods across the city.
“Sometimes our neighborhoods don’t know each other like they should,” he said.
District 13 Councilman Rory Diamond, who voted against the amendment, said he supports funding the Emerald Trail, but not by raising gas taxes.
“This is just a classic example of taking a sweetener and dropping it into something that isn’t as popular,” he said.
The amendment comes after part of the proposal’s Skyway expansion funding was cut by $132 million last week. Currently, the plan would allocate about $240 million to the Skyway expansion.
The council will hold a special meeting on May 26 to further discuss and potentially vote on the tax increase.