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Jacksonville is now mulling over a major funding infusion by way of a six-cent increase to Duval County’s gas tax. In a proposal that Mayor Lenny Curry announced on March 10, 2021, the city would extend the current six-cent gas tax another 10 years, to 2046, and add another 6 sents onto the figure. According to Jordan Elsbury, Curry’s Chief of Staff, the tax would contribute about $30 million a year for a total of $930.2 million, enabling the city to start tackling badly needed improvements such as removing septic tanks and updating infrastructure.
So far, the city is striking the right chord by informing citizens about what the proceeds will go to. The city and the Jacksonville Transportation Authority have released a draft list of projects to be funded and will finalize it shortly. This is refreshing after a number of the city’s major proposals recently have lacked public input – notably in the attempted sale of JEA, the Lot J proposal, and the demolition of the Jacksonville Landing. This time around, the proposal appears to be being conducted transparently.
Given the city’s many needs, the mayor’s gas tax proposal is absolutely worth exploring. As some critics have noted, there are of course negative elements to a tax like this. Most notably, unlike property taxes, gas taxes are flat rates for every payer, regardless of their income levels. That makes it arguably a regressive tax. But there are benefits as well that help mitigate the problems. A gas tax will generate income from the thousands of residents from the bedroom counties outside of Duval as well as tourists and visitors who benefit from our infrastructure without contributing to it accordingly, something not possible with property taxes. Equally importantly, meddling by the state government has restricted the effectiveness of property taxes.
Many of the priorities in the city’s draft list are well considered, and will no doubt be popular with taxpayers. For instance, Elsbury stated that the revenues could free up $300-$400 million from the general budget that could be devoted to septic tank remediation. That would take a substantial bite out of the city’s $2 billion backlog. The $483 million for roads, bridges and related infrastructure could also be a tremendous boost, particularly in traditionally underserved areas in Northwest Jacksonville.
The plan includes potential funding to revamp and extend the Skyway into adjacent neighborhoods.
Some elements, however, may face some pushback from City Council and taxpayers. For instance, JTA proposes dedicating $378,840,000 toward its plan to replace the current automated people mover trains with autonomous vehicles and expand the system (a plan The Jaxson has criticized before). That amount is about 85% of JTA’s cut of the new revenues, and about 40% of the total, over the next 25 years. Given the high cost and the capacity limitations and other issues with the system JTA is pursuing, this might prove a harder sell for council members and voters than many of the other projects.
Nevertheless, Jacksonville is well known as a city that has traditionally lacked the political willpower to seriously invest in itself. While some elements may need work, without a doubt this is a funding proposal certainly worth exploring.
Editorial by the managing partners of The Jaxson. Contact The Jaxson at firstname.lastname@example.org.