Lots of talk, few specifics on pension reform
By Matt Augustine
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — While members of city council will likely have their share of problems with the mayor's proposed budget as they begin to work their way through the more than 400 pages of numbers, the one thing most seem to agree on is that the city needs to reform its pension system or face the possibility of bankruptcy.
"We're not going to be like Stockton, California...we're going to do this right," says Mayor Alvin Brown.
However, exactly what that reform will entail is another issue entirely. Specific details of a pension reform plan, even tentative or speculative ones, have been non-existent.
"I would say this: If we don't reform the pension system, in a few years, we could be looking like some of the other cities," says councilman Steven Joost, referring to cities like Stockton and San Bernardino, California, which have filed for bankruptcy due largely to bloated pension funds.
The city of Jacksonville will pay out $150 million in pensions this year -- a $46.5 million dollar increase from last year and about 15 percent of the total general fund budget which adds up to about $945 million.
Joost says the first thing city council has to do is pass the budget. Once that's done, he says, they can start working on pension reform seriously. However, council president Bill Bishop says it's going to be a long road.
"I really don't know how that's going to go. The pension issue is highly complex. There are a lot of moving parts, there are a lot of people involved," he says.
Mayor Brown vowed during his budget speech that Jacksonville would not end up like Stockton or San Bernardino, and says the wheels are already in motion for a pension reform plan.
"We're going to present a pension plan by the end of the year that's going to be fair and sustainable," said Mayor Brown. "It's not sustainable, we've got to do pension reform and we have to protect the taxpayers and the city employees, and the only way to do that is to make sure we do pension reform, and we're working on that. I don't want to get into specifics but we're literally working on that. We'll present a plan by no later than the end of the year."
Brown says the goal is to have it done before next year's budget.