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Vote NO on Jacksonville's Police-Fire pension sales tax referendum

"No justice, no peace, no pension"
By Jacksonville District of the Freedom Road Socialist Organization |
July 31, 2016
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Jacksonville, FL – On Aug. 30, the people of Jacksonville will vote on a referendum calling for a half-penny sales tax to pay for the city's troubled Police and Fire Pension Fund (PFPF). The referendum, proposed by Mayor Lenny Curry, extends an existing sales tax for up to 30 years beyond its scheduled end in 2030. Curry and other supporters claim the sales tax extension will go towards paying down the city's $2.87 billion debt owed to the fund.

The mayor's referendum predictably drew support from the Jacksonville Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) and Jacksonville Association of Fire Fighters, who represent the vast majority of the over 5100 members in the fund. The JAX Chamber of Commerce and the Jacksonville Civic Council also endorsed a 'Yes' vote, signaling widespread support for the pension sales tax among business owners and the wealthy. Even the Republican and Democratic parties in Duval County threw their bipartisan support behind the referendum.

With costs projected to reach $280 million next year, Jacksonville's PFPF accounts for roughly 20% of the city's annual budget. Both the fund's high annual cost and the existing multi-billion dollar debt act as huge drains on city resources.

However, the people of Jacksonville should vote ‘no’ on the pension sales tax referendum. Curry's referendum is a cynical scheme designed to make poor and working people shoulder the burden of paying for the mismanaged pension fund. It further asks Jacksonville's Black community to pay more in order to fund the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office's (JSO) pensions – the same police force that disproportionately arrests, incarcerates and murders Black women, men and children.

The pension sales tax forces the working class to pay for the mismanagement of the rich

For decades, big business, real estate developers and wealthy landowners in Jacksonville put politicians in office who cut property taxes and opposed measures to raise revenue, like reappraising under-valued property.

Low property taxes, bad investments made by the PFPF's Board of Trustees and higher pension contributions demanded by the FOP forced the city to take on more debt to pay for the fund. Now the same capitalist class responsible for the current state of the PFPF – $2.87 billion in debt – wants to fix it by extending an existing half-penny sales tax up to 2060. 

This solution will force Jacksonville's working class to disproportionately pay for the greed and mismanagement of the rich. Sales taxes are regressive taxes, meaning the poor and working class bear a heavier tax burden than the wealthy. Working people spend a greater percentage of their income on consumer goods – and therefore sales taxes – than the rich. Curry's referendum is a way of dodging the issue of raising property taxes, which would force big business, real estate developers and wealthy landowners to pay more.

Racist discrimination and poverty in the northwest quadrant

Curry's sales tax referendum also highlights the continued racist discrimination and national oppression experienced by African Americans in Jacksonville. The city's northwest quadrant, where African Americans make up 93% of the residents, experiences higher poverty and unemployment rates than the rest of the city. In the northwest quadrant – often referred to as the Northside – 27.5% of families live below the poverty line compared to Jacksonville's 18.4% poverty rate. The median income for families living on the Northside was $32,451 in 2011 – roughly half of Jacksonville's median income of $60,712. In 2013, only 43% of residents living on the Northside were employed, compared to over 60% of Jacksonville residents.

These staggering inequalities did not happen by accident. City politicians and their financial backers have systematically neglected the northwest quadrant. From 2011 to 2015, the Northwest Jacksonville Economic Development Fund – intended to create jobs and economic opportunity in the area – dispersed only $400,000 of the $7 million available in the fund. Over the same period, the city council approved about $15 million in economic development incentives, mostly for projects on the majority-white Southside.

Similarly, a 2015 grant application submitted by Jacksonville Transit Authority to the Department of Transportation highlighted the areas in the city with poor transportation infrastructure – access to buses, ADA- compliant sidewalks, paved roads, etc. These areas, they reported, "are also the areas with the highest concentration of African Americans."

Supporters of the pension sales tax, like Mayor Curry, say that people should vote 'Yes' to free up more of the city's budget for improving infrastructure and investment. We need to recognize that for what it is: a pants-on- fire lie. The history of the city makes very clear that whatever revenue gets freed up by the sales tax will not end up in the Black community.

'No justice, no peace, no pension'

There's another racist dimension to Curry's pension sales tax: It asks the Black community, and disproportionately the Black working class, to pay for the pensions of the same police officers terrorizing and brutalizing them. Jacksonville Sheriff's Office (JSO) ranked second only to the Miami-Dade Police Department in the number of people killed by police in 2015 in the state of Florida, according to the Guardian.

The victims of police crimes are disproportionately African American, and justice is never served. In May 2015, two Jacksonville Sheriff's Office (JSO) officers shot and murdered 28-year-old African American D'Angelo Stallworth. Both cops were cleared of any guilt by State Attorney Angela Corey. Nearly a year later, JSO officers executed 20-year-old African American Vernell Bing Jr., shooting him in the head as he fled the scene of an accident. For murdering Bing, officer Tyler Landreville went on paid administrative leave and has received no charges at this time.

JSO disproportionately patrols Black neighborhoods and regularly arrest juveniles, most of whom are Black, at schools. These juvenile arrests literally destroy families, particularly those juveniles tried as adults. Florida's 4th Judicial Circuit – which includes Jacksonville – incarcerates the highest number of Black juveniles in the state. From 2006 to 2011, Black males comprised 70% of all juvenile offenders tried as adults, while white males comprised just 18%, according to a report by Human Rights Watch.

JSO works hand in glove with State Attorney Angela Corey, who is also up for re-election on Aug. 30, to terrorize Jacksonville's Black community. Put in office largely thanks to donations from the FOP, the Fire Fighters and JSO, Corey excuses officers who gun down Black men like D'Angelo Stallworth, while charging Black kids as adults to bully them into plea deals. The FOP and Jacksonville Fire Fighters have also thrown their full weight behind Corey in her re-election bid, making their case for the community paying more into their pensions all the more disgraceful.

Make the rich pay

On May 31, Mayor Curry said that if voters do not approve the sales tax referendum, property taxes could rise by 30%. Like his predecessor Alvin Brown, Curry won the support of Jacksonville's white capitalist class by pledging to not raise property taxes. His ‘doomsday’ projection of a 30% hike – not based on any actual data – is a scare tactic used to shore up support for the referendum.

However, the city's real estate developers, wealthy landowners, and big business should pay higher taxes to fund the pension. They created this problem, along with the politicians they put in office. Normally a progressive income tax that forces the wealthy to pay more is the best way to do this. But the state of Florida has no income tax, and city governments cannot levy income taxes either.

Instead of a regressive, anti-worker sales tax or an across-the- board property tax hike, the city should enact a progressive property tax. Wealthy developers and landowners should have their assets reappraised and pay higher property taxes to fund the PFPF. On the other hand, poor and working people should not pay higher taxes in any form, whether it’s a half-penny sales tax or property taxes on their homes.

If the mayor and the wealthy interests behind him want the PFPF funded, they should shoulder the burden themselves – not the working class.

Vote no on the pension sales tax referendum

The poor and working class should not shoulder the burden for the city's mismanagement of the PFPF. Nor should the city of Jacksonville force the Black community to finance the pensions of the same people arresting, brutalizing and murdering them.

The Jacksonville District of the Freedom Road Socialist Organization urges workers of all nationalities to vote no on the Mayor's half-penny sales tax pension referendum. We also urge people to vote against State Attorney Angela Corey and the racist injustice system she represents. We join with leading voices in Jacksonville's Black community in saying, 'No justice, no peace, no pension'.

All registered voters in Jacksonville are eligible to vote in the referendum regardless of party affiliation. Early voting in Duval County (Jacksonville) begins on Aug. 15 and runs until Aug. 28. Election day is Aug. 30.