For the past two legislative sessions, state Republicans have tried to overhaul what’s called Community Redevelopment Agencies (CRAs) that finance improvements in blighted areas.
The measures haven’t passed, but now there’s a new attempt in the Legislature that’s gaining traction.
State Rep. Chris LaMarca, a Republican from Broward County, has filed a bill that would take the power to create CRAs away from local governments and put them into the hands of voters – many of whom have never visited such blighted areas.
His proposal says that any new CRA could come into existence only by getting a two-thirds majority of voters in a county. The bill also would terminate all existing CRAs when they are scheduled to expire, or by 2039, unless the local county commission votes to maintain them by a two-thirds majority vote.
LaMarca’s proposal was approved along party lines at a House committee meeting Thursday, with all Republican members in support, and Democrats strongly against the measure.
State Representative Bobby DuBose, a Democrat from Broward County, said he didn’t like the fact that an entire county could have a say on taxes that are generated in just one part of a city.
“I think taking folks who potentially have never visited, and may never visit, and whose property doesn’t contribute to that area…and ask them to weigh in, is not in my opinion the best way to handle this,” DuBose said.
State Rep. Margaret Good, a Democrat from Sarasota, said her concern was that property values won’t increase in most CRAs unless more money is put into them.
“This is going to hurt our communities in a way that none of us really want,” she said.
“We want these communities that are suffering from blight, that are in slum-like conditions to get better, and CRAs are a really good mechanism to do this,” she said, adding that if there are abuses, “let’s deal with the abuses, but let’s not make it virtually impossible to create CRAs.”
There are currently 227 CRA’s in Florida. Some are doing better than others.
But there have been some well documented incidents of abuses in the system, most notably in Miami-Dade County, where a grand jury report in 2016 said that the CRA appeared to be a fund for pet projects for elected officials.
Those incidents have compelled GOP lawmakers to call for legislative proposals to drastically rework the existence of CRAs.
Some CRAs have been in existence for decades and still are struggling, LaMarca said, which is why things should be done differently.
“I’m amazed that the conversation about not wanting all of your fellow county residents to vote for something is surprising to me,” he said. “Because I always think that something is worth voting on. You let everyone vote.”
The bill also requires commissioners of a CRA to undergo at least four hours of ethics training annually.
The bill has now passed in three committees and will move to the full House for approval. A Senate companion bill filed by Hillsborough County’s Tom Lee will be heard in the Community Affairs Committee next Tuesday.