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UNF poll: Opposition to key compontent of pension plan

A new poll out of the University of North Florida covers a number of questions related to Jacksonville's unfunded liability of $1.7 billion for its pension system. 

Among the proposals that have been offered to reduce the city's pension obligation, one would require the JEA to increase its annual contribution to the city.  It may lead to higher electric rates. 

"Over 70 percent of Jacksonville residents are opposed to that," says assistant professor of political science Dr. Michael Binder at UNF.

Despite the fact that the survey sample size was 502 people, Dr. Binder says he thinks it's safe to say most of the city is against this new pension plan because JEA says it would have to raise rates.

"I think that the public looks at that and says 'Well that makes sense. If they're going to be paying several hundred million dollars, where is that money coming from? It's got to come from us, the consumer.'"

The poll also finds 60% either somewhat supporting or strongly supporting asking future public safety employees to pay more into the pension system. 

The survey also showed that where 37 of participants last year felt the city's top priority should be improving jobs and the economy, this year the most support went to improving education with 27 percent saying that should be the top priority.

Participants were also asked a couple of questions related to the pension plan. According to the poll, "The public also opposes (56 percent) a small increase in property taxes dedicated to reducing the pension obligation. Three proposals to reduce the pension obligation that do have community support include requiring current (62 percent) and future employees (70 percent) to pay more into the pension system. There is also tepid support for requiring future public safety employees to work longer until they become eligible to receive pension benefits (51 percent)."

UNF released a poll last week showing Mayor Alvin Brown's approval numbers as well as the hypothetical results of a mayoral race between Mayor Brown and several other potential candidates for the GOP. Data showed that though the Mayor's approval ratings are down from this time last year, he is still generally favored by the voting public.

This week's poll dives more into some of the most important and controversial issues his administration has tackled since he took office in July 2011. For example, Dr. Binder says he thinks citizens know that something has to be done about the pension and want something done about it, but they just don't like the way the Mayor wants to do it.

"Taking stands on issues that are politically unpopular going into an election season is dangerous...so if I were the Mayor and if I were on the Mayor's team, I would be potentially concerned."

Binder says he hopes this data is not just looked at as a set of numbers, but useful information that politicians and decision-makers in the city can look at as a gauge of where the public's opinion stands.

"I think this is a great opportunity for the elected officials to look down and say 'Hey, here's what the citizenry think and maybe we should take this into consideration."

Mayor Brown's spokesman sent a statement in response to the poll, saying the language does not describe the Mayor's proposal.  Spokesman David DeCamp says Brown's proposal would not require JEA to do something in exchange for nothing.

Instead, he has suggested a partnership in which JEA would make an increased contribution to the City of Jacksonville for a limited period of time, and in exchange the City would help JEA find savings and revenue opportunities to offset the increased contribution.

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