Alvin Brown's Pension Reform: Here We Go Again...

February 20, 2014 17 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

While everyone in the city has been caught up in the latest round of murders, odd weather, and denunciations of local artists, attempting to do something interesting with the city, the new budget battle of the year is brewing. Alvin Brown, eager, yet again, is determined to ram his two-tiered labor agreement down the collective throat of the city, despite the city borrowing 1 billion to pay towards the "pension holidays" previous Mayors and Councils took, in October. At least that is what they said it was for. Editorial from Robert Montgomery

Recently Jacksonville was selected, according to writer Kate Rogers, number four among a list of the top ten cities that have the potential to become the next Detroit due to bad fiscal policy. The city had total unfunded pension liabilities of 327% in 2011 with the state giving the city 6 to 81% in contributions. What that means is that we're in the whole despite the Mayor's constant assurances that everything will be fine and taxes will not increase. After borrowing the billion, the City Council, like it or not, admitted there was no way that could happen.

It was correct to take out the loan to make up for the sins of the past and allow the city to continue to operate as solvent as possible. The Firefighter's Pension Fund was not going to be able to honor its obligations, with the money outstanding, and the fact that tenured civil servants were unwilling to yield on an agreement reached with the Mayor. And why would they; it's a great deal. Many tenured civil servants will go home with pensions around $3000 a month paid for by people who will, more than likely, only get $1200 a month, if that, off of Social Security.

But never fear, despite the fact that Alvin Brown stuck to his "no new taxes" pledge, there will be. But there will also be another addition to cost for the average citizen. Brown has enlisted the JEA to help with the "unfunded pension liabilities" of 1.7 billion. In addition he is asking our utility to give another 40 million a year for the next 14 years. Hopefully some interested individuals are scratching their heads asking about the billion dollar loan and what that actually went for. Of course the next question most people should be asking is how long it will be before the JEA comes back to the council asking for another rate increase. According to the News4JAX article, the JEA is also asking to create its own pension program separate from city's General Employee Pension Plan. After being asked to bail the Mayor out of the agreement he came to Firefighter's Pension Fund is there any wonder why?

There is only two reasons Brown is doing this: his "no new taxes" pledge, and the fact that he will not force the union back to the table to renegotiate. The JEA will not be able to realize a 2.5% growth rate which equates to 10,000 new electric boxes on new homes and businesses. That hasn't happened since the housing bubble. So the new "but we won't call it that" tax is going to come in the form of a rate increase - it's pure and simple.

Despite the idiocy of Brown's pension reform in general, now there are allegations by JEA personnel of Brown using strong arm tactics to ram this through accord to recent Times-Union articles. Peter Bower was told he should resign by Brown's office because he would not guarantee a "yes" vote. Brown's office has denied any of the allegations, although they did decide to delay a his reappointment to the JEA board.

It is time for Alvin Brown to scrap a really bad idea and go back to the woodshed. His pension reform proposal was an agreement made simply to let tenured union employees keep rather lavish pensions at the cost of the taxpayer and any new hires should the city ever be able to afford to hire any in the future. The union as well needs to understand that they are not a private sector union. There is nothing wrong with the fact that they are in a union, but, as they are employees of every person in the city, they have a responsibility to take an active role in doing what is required to help keep the city solvent by not creating too much of a burden on the taxpayer.

Even worse it was introduced as an unfunded mandate. There was no plan to pay for any of the costs associated with the agreement. Largely what was going to happen was that the Mayor was going to cut essential services last year - libraries, women's protective services, fire fighters, animal rescue, and other basic government services - to pay for it. The City Council, and many activist groups, mobilized against it. This year in an attempt to keep this reform plan, the Mayor is using a different strategy: shifting the cost over the long term on a basic service everyone needs. Not only is this bad policy, but it's very dishonest.

Editorial by Robert Mongtomerie
The Duval Progressive