The Florida Legislature is advancing bills to increase reporting and public notice requirements for local governments and special districts to increase taxes and issue long-term debt.

Called the Local Government Fiscal Transparency act, Senate Bill 1426, sponsored by Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, would also require local governments to prepare a debt affordability analysis before approving any new tax-supported bonds. The analysis would examine the issuer’s ratio of debt to revenues before and after issuance.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott addresses a joint session of the Legislature on Jan. 9, 2018.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott addresses a joint opening session of the Legislature on Jan. 9.

The measure would require the presiding chair or officer to include in the annual audit an affidavit stating that requirements of the bill have been met. For failing to comply, the state would be able to withhold any revenue sharing funds not pledged to debt service.

“The goal here is to provide the citizens of our state a better understanding of how and why their tax dollars are being raised…and spent,” Lee told the Senate Community Affairs Committee Tuesday.

Laura Youmans, associate director of policy for the Florida Association of Counties, said during the hearing that she looked forward to working with Lee on changes to the bill.

The committee passed the bill unanimously, without discussion. It has two more hearings before advancing to the Senate floor for a vote.

Nearly identical legislation has already been considered in the lower chamber.

House Bill 7, by Rep. Colleen Burton, R-Lakeland, passed the House 91-12 without any amendments on Jan. 12, although both the Florida League of Cities and the FAC said various provisions were onerous and duplicated what local governments already do.

“We already do a lot of this reporting,” FLC Senior Legislative Advocate Amber Hughes told the House Ways and Means Committee on Oct. 10 – the only committee scheduled to hear the bill. “The other part is that my cities…already practice sound financial management.”

Hughes said the 412 cities her organization represents already follow government accounting standards and must follow bond covenants. Additional analysis that “doesn’t technically add more value” or add to the fiscal prudency of issuing debt, could cost more money by delaying a bond issue, she said.

Hughes also raised concern about unforeseen circumstances that could lead the Joint Legislative Auditing Committee to withhold revenue-sharing funds if a local government if deemed to be not in compliance with the act.

The conservative political advocacy group Americans for Prosperity, represented by Andrew Hosek, said his organization supported HB 7.

FAC lobbyist Youmans said the county association had many of the same concerns about the bill as those raised by Hughes.

Although Florida requires elected officials to hold public meetings and vote in public, both bills require local governments and districts to post voting records related to tax increases and issuance of tax-supported bonds on their websites.

Other bills are making their way through the Legislature would restrict local governments from taking action on certain matters, including forbidding them from becoming sanctuary cities, restricting local impact fee collections, and prohibiting professional and semi-professional sports franchises from building or improving facilities on public land.

The Legislature is scheduled to adjourn March 9.

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