Could Jacksonville become the next Detroit?

Published On: Aug 13 2014 06:34:04 PM EDT   Updated On: Aug 13 2014 07:10:00 PM EDT

Florida cities are on the hook for $11 billion in unfunded pensions, according to the government watchdog group TaxWatch.

“When the legislature failed to address this problem during this past session, that what’s probably best now for a Detroit to happen here in Florida, for a city to go bankrupt, so people can understand the proportion of this crisis,” said Robert Weissert with Florida TaxWatch.

The city where that's most likely to happen? Jacksonville, which is struggling to find a way to control spiraling pension costs and catch up on a $1.6 billion deficit.

It’s a growing problem with no solution. That’s why Florida TaxWatch, the League of Cities, and other major policy groups came together to demand action.

“We’ve made promises to our first responders, to police and firefighters, and we want to honor those commitments,” said Scott Dudley with the League of Cities.

Not every city is hurting. But the group says the whole system is like a ticking time bomb, and if one goes, the rest will fall.

“We’re all part of one state, this is a matter of ‘if your neighbors house is on fire, don’t haggle over the price of the garden hose. We have to make sure that our community, as a whole, is competitive,” said Weissert.

The bottom line is, if Jacksonville’s pension system goes belly up, taxpayers in Tampa, and the rest of the state, are stuck footing the bill.

A bill was in place this past session that would have helped local pensions. But it was linked to a state level retirement overhaul, and both proposals died. Florida’s House speaker isn’t taking the blame –- even though statewide reform was a top priority.

“I think there was a bill, whether or not the House would have supported it, that’s to be seen, what I do know, is both state and local pensions need to be addressed,” said Rep. Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel.

The group said it will try to use last year’s bill as a road-map to form a better solution next session.

The coalition said there needs to be a compromise with first responders, because if nothing gets done, it's possible many police and firefighters could wind up without retirement benefits.


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