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ICARE Community Initiatives Clouded By Mayor Curry's Pension Reform Issue As Conditional For Support

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

I was fortunate enough to attend the ICARE Nehemiah meeting on Monday, April 11th at the Abyssinia Baptist Church on Interstate Center Dr. For those unfamiliar with ICARE it is the Interfaith Coalition for Action, Reconciliation, and Empowerment that is a coalition of 24 churches, mosques, and synagogues dedicated to improving the quality of life in Jacksonville, Florida by addressing neighborhood and city-wide justice issues important to our members. 

The evening event in question subjected the Abyssinia Church with an overflowing crowd that waited in anticipation for the expected appearance of Mayor Lenny Curry. It is no secret Mayor Curry was a reluctant participant to attend and had to be pressed into attending with constant entreaties from the ICARE community and the publicity surrounding his reticence. Once he was invited on stage to answer questions regarding the community initiatives supported by the ICARE board it came as no surprise that he based his administration commitment to the initiatives on the outcome of the pension issue currently simmering in the current local political discourse. In a nutshell Curry based his argument for giving a full commitment to the ICARE community initiatives on the 'success' of his pension reform plan which includes cutting pensions for city employees with a proposed shift to 401K's which have well known vulnerabilities as a retirement plan with details that go outside the purview of this discussion and can be discussed at a later date as it has a direct link to the pension issue. 

In 2011 Rick Scott instructed state and local governments to start cutting teacher salaries by 3% to contribute to the Florida state pension plan to replace up to $1 billion contributed by the state. My pay was cut 3% to increase donation to the pension fund statewide that was not my original contracted agreement as a salaried teacher. Scott offered in exchange an increase in educational funding based on a per student formula statewide. Not only did he abrogate the agreement to increase that funding he has steadily cut statewide per student since 2011. This is a typical bait and switch tactic on government spending agreements used by Republican Party operatives for statewide monetary policy. Mayor Curry is now trying to employ the same Rick Scott playbook not only on ICARE community initiatives but on citywide initiatives based on the pension 'crisis' being reformed through policies approved by his plan similar to the tactic Scott used for the state pension fund. 

Curry decries a tax burden on on the city as one obstacle to helping defuse the pension crisis which was admittedly mismanaged by the pension board for using public investment in a volatile market that backfired and helped cause the current crisis. Reaching for a 401K alternative is offering the same formula which helped cause the crisis in the first place which is another matter for discussion outside the discussion here. Let's quickly review the tax structure on the city of Jacksonville as outlined at the city's website which has the third lowest "tax burden" in the country:"

As an added argument to the local tax structure being unduly burdensome to the citizen taxpayer as the lone supporter for upkeep of the community infrastructure without city based businesses contributing one dime here is the current city mill rate compared to the top 10 cities in the state:

In a nutshell this is the current “pro-business” tax structure for city based businesses in Jacksonville proper [Duval county]. The city based business entities enjoys this under-taxed pro-business tax structure that by design allows them to be exempt from committing to a tax investment in the very infrastructure they exploit. This is a typical Republican "pro-business" blueprint for city based businesses to use and exploit the Jacksonville community infrastructure and force the entire burden for its upkeep on the citizen taxpayer. The corporate entities enjoying the 'benefits' outlined above will argue there is community investment through quality high paying jobs for individuals while moving company profits outside not only its host city of Jacksonville but the state of Florida. 

This leads the discussion to the Curry principle of defunding pension levels and replacing pension contributions by the city with 401K retirement plans vulnerable to market volatility as a viable plan while protecting the status quo of the Jacksonville business based tax structure. This puts ICARE community initiatives on the back burner waiting for the right opportunity to use the defunding of city employee pensions for a path to community initiatives at not only their expense but at individual taxpayer expense as well through the continued exemption of a tax investment in the community infrastructure by those business entities that profit from it the most. 

These actions also adds to the conservative Republican meme that somehow any government, whether local, state, or federal has the potential to be intrusive or an obstacle to individual initiative and the business environment as a whole. Somehow the meme is propagated that when a business fails somehow it’s the governments fault but whenever it finds success and flourishes then it is only through individual initiative, hard work and nothing else. In other words the taxpayer provided infrastructure current Jacksonville based businesses do not contribute one dime too, employees that were educated through a taxpayer subsided education system that fill their job positions, and a community that offers volunteer services such as family support groups, church based charities that help the community around the business all had nothing to do with its success. 

There is an argument that life spans are longer and pensions are no longer viable through a modern local government funding structure. This is the SAME exact argument used by the Republican party to defund social security and turn it over to Wall Street entities as a privatized fund. Good efficient, honest government by individuals dedicated to those ends deserve retirement pension funds paid BY THE COMMUNITY. That's the cost of having a viable and prospering community through an investment in the overseers of that local government. Good employees that are dedicated and committed to good local government will be hard to find if there is competition from privatized entities with goals and agenda that are not the same as those of a community as a whole. Earlier in an article from the Florida Times Union a local taxpayer was quoted thusly when told that taxpayer funds will be proposed to replace the pension shortfalls:
 “I’m so angry as a taxpayer,” said Karen Fergusson, a resident of Jacksonville who came to City Hall on Wednesday to hear about the forensic audit. Fergusson was joined by about 60 other people. “I own a home. I pay taxes. Our money is needed in so many other areas.” 
This is a typical response from a taxpayer that absolutely fails to understand that community investment also calls for paying government employees that dedicate themselves to the very community she inhabits that include " many other areas."
This is not a call to ignore the individuals responsible for the current pension crisis. On the contrary they need to be held accountable but not at the expense of city employees. Mayor Curry needs to be called on this by the opposition as these two political initiatives of pension reform

and community initiatives come to ahead. The problem is I see no one willing to do that. I saw some fight in the ICARE powers that be that evening but that is not enough. The overflow attendance that was in attendance watching this kabuki political blackmail theater play out before them should be a warning to Curry that the people’s concerns should not be subjected to political blackmail. I'm just not sure the will is there from the ICARE community to hold Curry and his administration’s feet to the fire in a more aggressive manner that was demonstrated tonight and force a political change that will benefit the community initiatives we all want. For those of you that want to 'keep politics out of this' as an argument are in self denial here. It IS political as that's the process of governing we chose as a republic. I'm willing to take that fight to Curry. I hope others will as well and contribute to this discussion.


Marthavmuffin said...

It was amazing how he waffled out of answering the questions and then finally said NO, until we 'fix' the pension there will be no help from the city for any humanitarian issues.

Sandgirl said...

I was there, too. And I understood that he was saying he had already cut things like police protection and couldn't cut other budget items any more. The only way to fund the items would be to raise taxes or to reduce the pension Funding requirements by switching out to 401k for current employees. I understood why he didn't want to commit to Funding the initiatives proposed when he didn't have money to do it.