Lawsuit Challenges Pension Tax Referendum Ballot Language

Aug 12, 2016

Credit News4Jax

A group opposed to Mayor Lenny Curry's plan to use a half-cent sales tax to pay down the city's pension deficit has filed a lawsuit against the amendment.

Concerned Taxpayers of Duval County and several other activists say the language in the referendum is just too confusing, and voters won't know what the amendment means.

"Florida statute say it has to clear, unambiguous," said John Winkler of Concerned Taxpayers of Duval County. "We have issues both with it factually and with just the sheer confusing nature of what is written there."

Curry disagrees, saying the ballot language is easy to understand.

"The language clearly lays out that we will be closing the pension plans that caused this and we will be taking a half-penny sales tax that is legally obligated to fund pension liability," Curry said.

The referendum for the half-cent tax was authorized by the Florida Legislature and Jacksonville City Council to appear on the Aug. 30 primary for all Duval County voters.

The tax could solely be used to pay off the pension liability and would end when the debt is paid off, but not last beyond 2060.

The proposal also calls at least one of the city's three current pension plans to be closed to new hires and requires current employees to contribute a minimum of 10 percent of their salary. The exact terms of the closures would have to be negotiated with nearly 10 different unions representing those employees.

Here's the official language that will appear on the ballot:

“Permanently closing up to three of the City’s underfunded defined benefit retirement plans, increasing the employee contribution for those plans to a minimum of 10%, and ending the Better Jacksonville ½-cent sales tax are all required to adopt a ½-cent sales tax solely dedicated to reducing the City’s unfunded pension liability.  Shall such pension liability sales tax, which ends upon elimination of the unfunded pension liability or in 30 years maximum, be adopted?"

The lawsuit also says the referendum is illegal because the City Council jumped the gun in May by voting to put it on the ballot before Gov. Rick Scott signed the law allowing the vote to take place.

Curry has told downtown business leaders that if the half-cent sales tax isn't approved by the voters in this month's primary, the city will be in dire straits. Curry and Sheriff Mike Williams strongly denounced a citizen's task force report that recommended a property tax increase in addition to the sales tax to adequately fund the Sheriff's Office.

No court date has been set. The city has until Aug. 25 to file its response.

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