House advances bill giving power to state legislators for CRAs - Florida Politics

House advances bill giving power to state legislators for CRAs

A modified bill to put additional limits on Community Redevelopment Agencies (CRA) advanced Wednesday in the House Government Accountability Committee.

Local governments use CRAs to promote affordable housing, economic development, health and safety in under-served neighborhoods. They hold a set percentage of property taxes paid by residents of a community, investing that money — also known as tax incremental funding (TIF) — back into the area.

Sponsored by Valrico Republican Jake Raburn (HB 13), the bill originally would have eliminated all CRAs formed after July 1, prohibit CRAs from taking on any new projects or debts after Oct. 1 and end all the state’s CRAs by 2037.

However, that proposal received furious pushback from local officials throughout Florida.

In St. Petersburg, Mayor Rick Kriseman held a news conference last week condemning the bill, saying that the legislation would harm efforts for South St. Pete’s CRA.

The problem came from the excesses of one particular CRA in Miami, Kriseman said. A grand jury there found that insufficient oversight of CRAs and a lack of citizen input in their operation created the opportunity for those funds to act as a “slush fund” for elected officials’ pet projects.

Raburn’s new bill would allow for the creation of CRA’s to continue, but only by having a local government official get buy-in from a state legislator, who would have to pass it as a local bill. His measure also limits what a CRA can spend their funds on.

Many provisions of the bill were positively received, like required ethics training for CRA commission members and mandatory reporting on annual project expenditures, debts and outcomes. Even legislators on the committee who voted against it said 80 percent of the bill was solid.

Coconut Creek Democrat Kristin Jacobs said she found that creating an “onerous” list of projects where CRA funds can be used was “very limiting” to what the programs can do.

Committee Chair Matt Caldwell, a Republican from Lehigh Acres, pushed back on criticism that having a state legislator file a bill for CRA’s was limiting the power of home rule.

“Local governments cannot do this on their own,” he said because the structure of a CRA was created by the state government in the first place. “If the statute did not exist, then none of the TIF finance structure would be a legal structure for local government. So having restrictions I don’t think is an affront to home rule.”

In his closing, Raburn cited some of the noted excesses from CRA’s over the years, such as the fact that 80 percent of the TIF revenues in Miami went to administrative costs, not to fund projects that reduce slum or affordable housing.

He said that a CRA in Melbourne has been around since 1982, and was extended in 2007 (when it was set to expire) until 2042, giving it a life of 60 years.

“If you can’t address slum and blight in your community in 25 years, what’s to say that you can do it in the next 35 years?” Raburn asked.

Brandon Republican Tom Lee’s companion bill, SB 1770, has the same transparency and accountability measures as the House bill, but offers an alternative to eliminating all CRAs, and added the amendment (now adopted by the House bill) that a super-majority vote of council or board members to create new CRAs or extend the life of an existing one beyond 2037.

The bill was voted down Tuesday by a Senate Committee but was subsequently temporarily postponed. Nevertheless, the odds of it advancing there appear bleak.

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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