Florida Politics – Sixty Days for 3.4.19
March 4, 2019
Lawmakers are taking another stab at overhauling community redevelopment agencies (CRAs). Republican state Rep. Chip LaMarca, of Lighthouse Point, and Thonotosassa Republican state Sen. Tom Lee have filed legislation that would bring more accountability and transparency to CRAs, which target slum and blight at the local level. The Florida League of Cities welcomes such changes but opposes the more restrictive and punitive components of the bills. David Cruz, legislative counsel for the League, explained the opposition to reporters earlier Monday during a roundtable discussion. (We edited and adapted his remarks for the “3Q” format.)
Q: What prompted these measures?
Cruz: There have been some audits and some reports that have found that CRAs need to address some issues dealing with accountability and transparency. If we dealt with those issues, (then) the League of Cities would be at the podium tomorrow supporting these bills wholeheartedly. Unfortunately, the bills include extremely punitive provisions that are extremely concerning to our members, and therefore the League of Cities is opposed to HB 9 and SB 1054.
Q: What’s are — in the League’s view — the positive aspects of the bills?
Cruz: On the accountability and transparency side of things, the bills deal with ethics training requirements for CRA board members, requiring four hours of ethics training. They require standardized procurement, so that the city and the CRA are using the same procurement method. The bills have additional reporting and audit requirements, some audit reporting requirement for the county within the CRAs boundaries and some additional data that the CRAs would now have to collect to measure their effectiveness at the local level and to see how effective they’re doing their job. The legislation also imposes some lobbying requirements, so all CRAs would have to have a lobbyist registration program in place. If that’s all that the bills did, the League of Cities would be supporting them.
Q: So how do local governments stand to lose?
Cruz: I think it’s important to frame the legislation keeping in mind one very important thing: CRAs are funded exclusively with local dollars. There are only city and county funds that go into the tax increment funds that the CRAs use to do all of their redevelopment efforts. So the state essentially does not have any skin in the game yet it is including these extremely restrictive provisions in this bill that cause our members concern.
HB 9, for example, sets up a phaseout for all CRAs in Florida by 2039, unless the CRA has bonds that extend past that date. There is a provision in the bill that if the city or a county wants to extend past 2039, they would have to do a supermajority two-thirds vote to try to get out of this phaseout provision.
Another extremely restrictive provision in the House bill is the creation of new CRAs. So after Oct. 1 of this year, if a city or county wanted to create a new CRA they would have to go through a new process that would entail a countywide referendum vote be taken and that the referendum pass with two-thirds support from the electorate.