Members of the Texas Legislature who tout the values of free markets, lower taxes and limited government appeal to conservatives, like me, but initiatives on the agenda in the state capitol this session propose something quite different.
A particularly troublesome bill by Houston-area Republican state Sen. Paul Bettencourt is headed for a committee hearing and probably on to the full Senate.
It should be defeated to preserve the ability of Texans to control their communities.
A visionary Texas law was adopted 30 years ago to support the creation of reinvestment zones, so local governments could pursue what the statue identifies as supporting “the sound growth of the municipality or county.”
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Much of the booming Texas economy owes its success to this far-sighted statute.
Bettencourt’s Senate Bill 650 to amend that law would have the effect of significantly curtailing opportunities to build on that success.
Models of the extraordinary achievement of reinvestment zones abound across the state.
Arlington has some areas designated as such that serve as examples of why leaving this statue unchanged is profoundly important
Two thousand acres of flood plain in north Arlington lay barren for decades, languishing on the city’s tax rolls with a value of less than $7 million.
Today, this land is the thriving Viridian residential project, appraised at more than $136 million with a conservative projected value of $2.5 billion when all the property is fully developed.
The skies in downtown Arlington are full of cranes erecting new buildings in the city’s center.
All that resurgence, including UT Arlington’s College Park Center, is a direct result of the downtown enterprise zone providing for direct investment in public facilities in the zone.
Along the north side of Interstate 20 was once a vacant prairie valued at $17 million.
The creation of The Arlington Highlands enterprise zone resulted in a remarkable retail, restaurant and entertainment complex that today has a value of $200 million.
In addition to the added value of the development, the city’s sales tax revenues have enjoyed significant increases, and the city’s cost of the just-completed Center Street Bridge was funded by the zone’s revenues.
To date, Arlington has achieved an increase of a half billion dollars in its tax base from the enterprise zones, and that number keeps growing.
Among the other problems with Bettencourt’s bill is the added level of state bureaucracy that would be created.
The result of that structure would be putting future decisions to create these money- and job-producing projects into the hands of one person in Austin.
The proposed changes would require that the state’s attorney general issue an opinion that any new project under the statute has met all the enumerated requirements, some of which may not even be germane to a proposed development.
Additionally, the attorney general would be empowered to define “unproductive,” “underdeveloped” and “blighted” and to set the terms for each new enterprise zone.
All of those requirements are already a matter of compliance with the existing law and subject to court challenge if projects do not comply.
The result of these onerous new requirements would be to render the kinds of projects I’ve mentioned above highly unlikely to occur in the future.
Replacing the powers of locally elected officials with that of the state’s attorney general exercising his own personal political prejudice and superseding the will of local residents is anything but a conservative principle.
The ultimate question is whether it’s a good idea to turn places like flood plain, deteriorated downtowns and vacant prairie into a bonanza of economic success — or not.
It seems an easy choice, but as we know from experience, common sense is sometimes in short supply during the days the Texas Legislature is in session.
Richard Greene is a former Arlington mayor and served as an appointee of President George W. Bush as regional administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency.