City could ask pension funds to be investor in new Jaguars stadium deal

What you are buying at the store today could end up paying for the Jacksonville Jaguars new stadium tomorrow.

One idea that has been proposed to pay for stadium renovations is to borrow sales tax money that would go to fund police and fire pensions in Jacksonville.

Negotiations between the city and the Jaguars are still underway and may not be decided until the summer, but how to pay for it is the main question at hand.

The new stadium could end up costing a total of $1.4 billion.

Gallery: ‘Stadium of the Future’ renderings

Mike Weinstein is the chief negotiator for the city and said a sales tax that was approved years ago could end up helping pay for part of the stadium.

“We’re looking at all kinds of alternatives,” Weinstein said. “If the city and the Jaguars come to an agreement on a renovated stadium, then how best should the city meet its financial obligations? And we’ve got to look at all kinds of possibilities as to what’s the best mechanism for us to meet that obligation. One of them may be the assistance and partnership with the pension funds.”

It’s a complicated plan.

In 2016, voters approved extending a half-cent sales tax to pay down the massive city pension debt. Now the pension has over $5 billion in assets, some of which would be invested to make more money to pay off pension debt. If a stadium plan is approved, the city could go to the police and fire pension board to ask for a loan of sorts to pay for part of the improvements, and this could be one way to get that money, shifting city money from one agency to another.

“The analysis will continue to go on until we need the money. Because what might be the best option today may not be the best option two years from now. So how we fund our obligation, if we have one, will still be an ongoing analysis. But the idea with the pension funds might have merit and it might be a win-win on both sides,” Weinstein said.

MORE: Final design, cost of new Jaguars stadium still up in the air as negotiations between city, team continue

By doing this, Weinstein said the city might even pay off its pension debt earlier and maybe free up that half-cent sales tax, but that would be way down the line.

News4JAX tried to reach the Police and Fire Pension Board, but it did not respond. The fire union president said it is something to consider.

“It’s a very interesting concept,” union president Kelly Dobson said. “As members, we’re always a little guarded to what a potential situation may produce, but at the same time, we’re not the fund, we’re not the trustees on the board. So they will have to see what the city potentially proposes, and then evaluate that.”

The police union is holding off on comment but News4JAX Political Analyst Rick Mullaney of the JU Public Policy Institute and former general counsel for the city said it’s one possible way to go.

“So it’s in the early stages, but I think it’s the right thing for the city to be looking at all possibilities,” Mullaney said. “And what are the risks? What are the risks for the fund? What are the risks for the city? All that is part of the due diligence that will have to be conducted.”

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It will also have to be something for the city council to eventually decide because the city will still be on the hook to pay back the loan and the city would need to figure out where to get those tax dollars. Right now the council president said he will meet with Weinstein later this week to get an update on the talks.

The Jaguars are not commenting at this time.

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