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City Council votes against repeal of Duval County gas tax increase

The council voted 13-5 against a repeal to remove the gas ta increase from 12 to 6-cents per gallon.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Jacksonville's city council voted 13-5 against a repeal of the gas tax increase for Duval County.

The 6 to 12-cent per gallon gas tax increase, brought to the table by Mayor Lenny Curry, was passed by the council in May. 

The gas tax will target infrastructure projects around Jacksonville, such as Emerald Trail Loop and renovating the Skyway. 

"I think the Emerald Trail, if you want a place to walk and bicycle through downtown. I would love to have an Emerald Trail that I could do those things on," council member, Jacksonville city council member Ron Salem said. "We've got a septic tank problem that's probably 1.5 billion dollars in order to correct it. There are needs all over this community that we can use dollars."

Salem voted against the repeal brought forth by councilmember LeAnna Cumber. She wanted to see Jacksonville pull from the federal pool, rather than increase taxes. 

"The federal government has passed $1.2 trillion infrastructure package that is flowing to the states now," Cumber said.  

The gas tax increase is forecasted to generate about $960 million over the next 30 years. Cumber believes there would be enough federal money to replace those tax dollars.

Cumber says the federal government has split the $1.2 trillion into two 'buckets,' formula funds and discretionary money. 

"The discretionary money is where you can apply for grants and that's tens of billions of dollars will sit at the U.S. DOT to apply for and then there's about $19 billion in formula funds that the state is guaranteed to get and within that dollar amount there are certain buckets the state gets to spend that money on because it's restricted," Cumber said. 

She added Jacksonville's population size would have net it the federal funds it needed to replace the gas tax increase dollars. Despite Cumber's optimistic forecast, it didn't do enough to sway the majority of the council. 

"I don't know what we're getting from the federal dollar," Salem said. "I don't know what the City of Jacksonville's going to get. I know what this tax will generate. So you're asking me to repeal something for an unknown dollar amount that we don't know today."

Salem acknowledged the ire Duval County residents will feel about the tax increase. However, he doesn't believe it will directly correlate to an increase in prices at the pump. 

"I don't think on Jan. 1 you're going to see a 6-cent increase. I just don't believe it because those gas stations in Duval County have to be competitive with the other counties in order for people to fill up their tanks there," Salem said. 

The debate doesn't end on how the infrastructure needs will be funded, Cumber and Salem also don't see eye-to-eye on what should be funded.

"A quarter of a billion of the proceeds they expect to get are going to go towards the Skyway, that's a free government service. $240 million is going to go to that rather than fixing roads, sidewalks, improving bike lanes and so forth," Cumber said. 

If passed, Cumber says the city would not be able to increase its gas tax (six percent is the highest it can increase at one point), for another 30 years. Cumber sees this as a big problem for future potential emergencies the city could face. 

"Let's say after 10 years we do the projects that we wanted to do but then something happens there's a hurricane and we need to repair/replace one of the bridges," Cumber said. "We no longer have the ability for another 20 years passed that to increase our local option gas tax."

Salem and Cumber both agree infrastructure needs to be improved and Salem even added he would not be opposed to briefly pausing the gas tax increase due to current inflation rates. Residents share the same infrastructure sentiments, but some are frustrated at the progress the city has made. 

    

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