House Bill 9 is another bill passed late in the state legislative session and signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis. The bill shows how two sides of the same issue can be spun two entirely different ways.
One publication put it this way: “Long-sought CRA reform is now law.”
If we were writing the headline, it might read: “Long-sought CRA death-knell is now law.”
A CRA is a Community Redevelopment Agency. It sets up special taxing districts created to specifically address strictly local issues with strictly local dollars. These districts are established to help revitalize predominately blighted, urban areas.
Basically, a CRA is funded by tax increment financing. Each CRA has a fixed footprint in which property taxes within those boundaries are “frozen” at its inception. From then on, all new revenue generated by rising taxable values is funneled back into the CRA.
By law, these uses can be utility upgrades, parks, street repairs or many infrastructure needs. It can also be used to leverage other dollars from state, federal or private donors. The cut for school districts and a few other minor special taxing districts do not go into the CRA.
HB 9 requires:
Commissioners of a CRA to undergo four hours of ethics training annually;
CRAs to use the same procurement and purchasing processes as the county or municipality that created it;
Expanding the annual reporting requirements for CRAs to include audit information and performance data, and requiring the information and data to be published on the agency website;
Providing money in the CRA redevelopment trust fund only be expended pursuant to an annual budget adopted by the board of commissioners for the CRA, and only for those purposes specified in current law, including overhead and administrative costs;
A CRA created by a municipality to provide its proposed budget, and any amendments to the budget, to the commission for the county in which the CRA is located 10 days after the adoption of such budget; and
Requiring a county or municipality that created a CRA to include the CRA’s audit report with its submission of the county or municipality’s annual financial report to the Department of Financial Services.
There is no question there have been some cities where the definition of a CRA has been a stretch. Most of the problems have been in South Florida, where CRAs have directed dollars at museums and concert halls rather than affordable housing or other benefits for low-income residents.
Lawmakers tell us the bill guards against these types of taxpayer “slush funds.” But in true form, the Legislature could not be satisfied with tightening up the oversight of CRAs.
The new bill exemplifies one of the Legislature’s favorite new tactics to ensure communities don’t waste their own tax dollars on themselves. Call it death-by-a-thousand rules, on one of the more practical and proven methods available to communities for lifting up economically blighted areas.
Lawmakers have smothered another key element to home rule. And nobody blinked.
This editorial originally appeared in the St. Augustine Record.