Ben Marcus: Mayor's Pension Fix is a Pay Day Loan

August 3, 2016 0 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

I’m sick and tired of hearing the half-cent sales tax is the only viable option for fixing Jacksonville’s pension problem. There are better options than Mayor Curry’s plan, which only provides a relief of 3% to our annual budget but saddles us with $2 billion+ in extra payments.

I don’t know about you, but I was taught to avoid putting things on credit.

While we are facing large payments on our current track, Mayor Curry’s proposed plan makes the problem much worst. According to the city's actuarial reports, Jacksonville will end up facing payments upwards of $450mil under Curry's plan. Ultimately, the Mayor's plan will put Jacksonville right back into the same situation as we are in now, and it will cost $2 billion more to get there.

The primary goals of the proposal are clear to me based on the wording of the legislation. The first thing mentioned is to close “up to three” pensions. The second provision in the language is a MINIMUM increase in employee pension contribution of 2% - in other words, at least a 2% pay cut for police and fire. Let’s be real. That language means three pensions are on the block and, more than likely, a larger employee contribution than an additional 2%. All this as the Mayor presents a budget without salary increases for our city employees. I understand a “fiscal conservative” doesn’t want to raise taxes - and who wants to have to pay them?

But it’s irresponsible, as a community, to force future generations to pay for mistakes they did not make. We cannot continue to hide the cost of government. The endeavor requires money. Period. We should be efficient and effective, not gut the people who make it work. By continuing to kick costs down the road, we do no favors for anyone. Especially our children and future Jacksonville residents.

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Since Curry's plan only frees up around $45 million a year over the next fifteen years, it would have been cheaper to increase our already low property tax rates by one mill, which equals $150/year or $.41/day for the median property in Jacksonville. This method would have generated roughly the same amount of money as Curry's plan and provided the same level of short-term relief. We can solve this problem and not turn our backs on public employees or impose billions in debt on future generations through a marginal property tax increase. News flash, creating more debt is the exact same thing as raising taxes. Who do you think is going to pay the additional $2 billion in debt generation? The answer is you are.

It would force our leaders to make our collective commitments work and present us with the REAL cost of living in a city with pretty basic public services. Sure payments will eventually outpace that millage increase, but then those extraordinary payments will be gone quickly, and we won’t add debt equaling twice the annual general budget of Jacksonville to the backs of future generations. Don’t THEY deserve to decide their financial trajectory for this city? Don’t THEY deserve parents and grandparents who are willing to pay for their mistakes (i.e., not keeping close tabs on the dumpster fire which was the Police and Fire Pension under Keane)?

Heck, why not start this tax, right now? Why not a full penny instead of half, so public employees don't suffer a pay cut and lose pensions? I'm open to any viable solution which puts us on the corrected course, right now. Not in 15 to 30 years as Mayor Lenny Curry proposes. Let's solve this issue right now!

A half-cent tax, which doesn’t start for another fifteen years, is not going to fix our budget. We need a public, comprehensive discussion about the budget - what can be consolidated, what needs more money, what needs to go - and what it will ACTUALLY cost to pay for it. We organize forums for exceedingly important issues like expanding the Human Rights Ordinance, and we can organize them for this, as well.

With so many smart, talented people in this city, we need all brains on deck for this. We cannot expect to improve as a city when the current idea on the table is to cut public employee pay, make it even less attractive to work for city government and police than it was before and hand our kids a bill for $2 billion.

As a new resident of the city (late 2014) and homeowner, I am MORE than happy to contribute to an actual, long-term fix to this problem. But I am not ok now, nor will I ever be, with giving myself slightly more relief at the cost of my children’s ability to control their destiny. This country wasn’t built on putting things off till later. It was built on taking one on the chin to make sure things get put in the right place. There is NO good solution to this issue. Don’t let anyone tell you there’s an easy fix. But to me, and many others, shoving it off on posterity, hoping unforeseen, but cyclical, economic variables won’t inevitably make the issue worse, is simply ignorant of history.

The Mayor likes to talk a lot about Detroit and how our current pension track could turn us into them, pre-bankruptcy. I argue adding more debt and hiding the cost of government, when there are other solutions, brings us closer to that reality.

Ben Marcus is a father, husband, activist and non-profit consultant, recently transplanted from Chicagoland with his wife and three small children.
Twitter: @benmarcus

Read: 4 Reasons to Vote No on Mayor Curry's Tax Proposal