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Jax Daily Record Tuesday, Jul. 23, 201312:00 PM EST

Gulliford to discharge Brown's pension reform legislation

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by: David Chapman

City Council President Bill Gulliford said he will discharge Mayor Alvin Brown's pension reform legislation from the committee level, pushing for a Council vote on the proposal at its 5 p.m. meeting today.

That means Council can vote for or against the proposal rather than spend committee time discussing it.

"I think we need to look at the timeliness of the issue," Gulliford said Tuesday.

Gulliford said he wanted to provide certainty to Council Finance Chair Greg Anderson and committee members who will begin an in-depth review of Brown's budget starting Aug. 8.

If it passes, the reform deal would then be in effect. If it does not, according to Council rules, any ordinance or resolution introduced that has not been withdrawn but has failed of adoption or passage cannot again be introduced for 12 months unless "substantially change."

The legislation being withdrawn also is a possibility.

Gulliford said he did not want the committee to start that review "without knowing which way to go on the issue" of pension reform.

"I think it's time to move on," he said.

The Council president can discharge any bill from the committee level, pushing it for a full Council vote and bypassing the cycle of committee meetings.

A simple Council majority vote on the issue is needed to pass.

The Council will be unable to amend or substitute the legislation because it would alter the agreement between the City and public safety unions.

In early May, Brown announced a pension reform agreement between the City and public safety unions that he said will save $1.2 billion over 30 years, including $45 million in the fiscal 2013-14 budget.

In late June, the Jacksonville Civic Council, a group of influential private business and community leaders, reported to Brown and Gulliford that the plan "makes substantial progress" but "isn't enough" and recommended that Council not pass it.

Last week, the JAX Chamber board of directors voted to not endorse the deal. "The legislation in front of City Council simply does not go far enough," JAX Chamber Daniel Davis said in a news release.

Brown created an 11-member Jacksonville Retirement Reform Task Force led by attorney Bill Scheu that began its review of the pension reform deal on July 10. It is scheduled to meet twice more and offer recommendations.

Gulliford said today the creation of the task force "in a sense tells me he (Brown) has some second thoughts" on the agreement.

Brown's proposed $953 million general fund budget includes more than $60 million in cuts to services.

In his July 15 budget speech to Council members, Brown claimed pension reform was the solution to avoid the cuts in his proposed budget.

"I don't want to make these cuts. You don't want to make these cuts. They are not acceptable for the long-term good of our City," he told Council, adding that tax increases and spending cuts also weren't solutions.

After the speech, Anderson said the budget and pension issues "can't be tied together."

The budget also includes more than $50 million in departmental lapses, or unspecified cuts often built into department budgets to account for personnel influx.

Those unidentified cuts often mean the committee will need to find them.

"He's already given us his budget and even worse, it's fraught with deficits," Gulliford said, characterizing it as a "horrifically bad."

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