Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Times-Union Missed Point on Pensions

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Times-Union Missed Point on Pensions

Article excerpt

Byline: Michael Hallett

It wasn't too long ago in Jacksonville that local "conservative" politicians had a lock on votes from police and firemen.

Jacksonville's carefully crafted bevy of off-cycle elections guaranteed low voter turnout.

Public sector workers, having the most direct stake in local election results, actually showed up to vote.

If you're upset about Jacksonville's pension situation, be upset first about the false promise of "shrinking government" when so few voters participate.

OFF-CYCLE ELECTIONS

The Times-Union frequently bemoans Jacksonville's lack of civic identity even while sensationalizing a brand of politics governed by local magnates (Shad Khan, Peter Rummell) and wannabe magnates (Civic Council) instead of citizens themselves.

Whether in crime, education or public finance, Jacksonville's root problem is not fiscal austerity.

It is lack of civic engagement.

The city desperately needs nonpartisan elections for state attorney and public defender and on-cycle (fall) election for the sheriff.

Spare me the rhetoric about how local elections highlight local issues. Off-cycle elections help obscure local issues from public comment.

In that context, I've been disappointed with the Times-Union's coverage of Jacksonville's pension crisis.

I've studied public finance of criminal justice for many years. And I think the Times-Union got the pension issue wrong from the very beginning.

First, while demonizing the Police and Fire Pension Fund and John Keane especially, the paper offered almost zero coverage of the fact that the city's two other large pension funds are also badly insolvent, to the tune of several hundred million dollars.

It failed to mention a pending federal lawsuit involving city employees excluded from opportunities to enroll in the pension, with probable liabilities of several hundred million dollars. …

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