Senator Bettencourt Attempts to Improve TIRZ and Management Districts' Transparency

What the State of Texas needs is more un-elected bureaucrats and more management districts able to pass bonds stealthily and meet without notifying the public. Said no one ever. I can't remember the last time I met a tax payer who was eager to open their wallet to pay more in taxes. Or a tax payer who thought it was a good idea for taxing authorities to veil their activities from the public. I know I personally cannot stand it when that happens, and the truth is, it happens everyday and we don't even know about it.

Which is why I was so glad to see that my own state senator Paul Bettencourt had authored a bill, SB 2047 to correct some of the veiled tendencies of these smaller management districts in and around the state of Texas. I can think of one type of management district that I would love to see more transparency imposed on; the Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone(s) or TIRZ for short. If that acronym rings a bell, it should because I've written about them not once, but twice right here on my humble little blog. I'll include the links to catch you up in case you've forgotten since they made their debut. Here's the first one titled, So What Is A TIRZ, Anyway?.

The second article highlighted a specific problem in the Uptown TIRZ, called Uptown TIRZ Terrorizes Traffic.

In reading the bill, however, there were a few questions that I had and I fired the questions off to Senator Bettencourt's office. After reaching out to his staff, I found out that the bill that I had come across, SB 2047 was actually just for Management Districts, not for the TIRZ's. However, they pointed me to a bill that Senator Bettencourt had authored as well, SB 650. The questions I asked were more or less in the text of SB 650. His staff was supremely helpful.

The Political Chicken (TPC): Are these regulations retroactive for the TIRZ that have already been formed?

Senator Bettencourt (SB): "Please keep in mind that SB 2047 focus was on Management Districts, not TIRZ. They are similar but at the same time different. SB 650 was Senator Paul Bettencourt's bill on TIRZ reform that was heard in the Senate Natural Resources Committee. SB 2047 was not heard by IGR. The bill would have applied only to those districts that would have been formed after the enactment of the bill, September 1, 2017. It would not have been retroactive."

TPC: How does a TIRZ or a management district obtain a non-profit status? Does a non-profit status exempt them from being required to comply with the Texas Open Meetings Act (TOMA)?

SB: "They are subject to the Texas Open Meetings Act."

TPC: A few of the TIRZ that already exist, ie, St. George Place, Uptown and Memorial City are hardly 'unproductive, underdeveloped or blighted'. How can the state of Texas disband these TIRZ that are more self-serving, IMHO than helpful to the areas they supposedly serve?

SB: "Senator Bettencourt filed SB 650, which would have provided reform to the creation of TIRZs. Under current law, one of the avenues for property to be placed into a reinvestment zone is via a petition put forward by at least fifty percent of the appraised property owners in the proposed zone. However, there is little guidance for those petitioning to help understand what type of land would qualify. SB 650 would have added the requirement that the land to be included via land owner petition must be unproductive, underdeveloped, or blighted. Additionally, it directs the Texas Attorney General to develop definitions for these terms. Furthermore, SB 650 would have required the use of dedicated revenue be used on land located inside of the zone. SB 650 also would have added a notice requirement prior to the issuance of tax increment bonds or notes. It provides that notice must be given to property owners in the municipality in which the district is located, members of the commissioners court, and each state senator and representative whose district includes territory in the county in which the zone is located. Additionally, it must provide notice to the commissioners court and members of the legislature in which the zone is located when the municipality submits their request for approval to the Texas Attorney General. There were also various bills filed that would have made it easier to disband these zones."

Also - note that this is not an issue that is on the call for the upcoming special session.

So, there you have it, boys and girls. We'll have to wait until the next legislative session to get more transparency from the municipal districts AND the TIRZ's. I would like to personally thank Senator Bettencourt and his staff and the efforts he and his team put forth during the 85th legislative session to increase transparency in government on all levels which is what his constituency in Senate District seven sent him there to do. Well done, Senator Bettencourt!

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