The Oklahoma legislature is currently considering a bill, HB 2132, that would create “a grassfire of prosperity” in our state according to Representative Lewis Moore (R-Arcadia). But Oklahoma doesn’t need another grassfire. They are unpredictable, dangerous, and usually leave behind a great deal of damage.
Under HB 2132, any landowner or group of landowners could file a petition with their county to create a district on their land – and once the district is created, they can make most of their own rules. They would negotiate a revenue covenant with the state instead of paying state and local taxes, and the district would be governed by a governing board.
If county officials do not act to deny a petition to create or expand a “Prosperity District,” citing specific deficiencies within 20 days, it will automatically go into effect. That creates a lot of potential for powerful special interests to force through these Districts by overwhelming county officials with applications. Basically, this bill could allow corporations and other special interests to create their own governments – all they need is a bit of land.
“Right to Farm” by other means?
Once created, a Prosperity District could be used to get around the wishes of local government and voters. For example, a factory farm could create a Prosperity District that allows them to ignore state and local rules about waste disposal and food safety. The idea that Oklahoma should shackle its ability to regulate industrial agriculture was clearly rejected by voters last fall, when SQ 777, the so called “Right to Farm” State Question, was defeated at the polls.
Unfair competition for Oklahoma businesses
With Prosperity Districts, landowners could exempt themselves from the rules that apply to the rest of us. Besides the threat to neighbors of the district, Prosperity Districts could create even more complications for Oklahoma businesses. Businesses inside the district could be given a big competitive advantage from being exempt from many state and local regulations, while other businesses would still be subject to all these rules.
This is not an Oklahoma idea
Bills to allow “Prosperity Districts” have been introduced, but not passed, in multiple states this year. That’s not a coincidence — it’s because the bill language comes from Compact for America, a Houston-based advocacy organization that’s also behind a push to rewrite the U.S. Constitution. If this outside group is writing the bill, we should ask what other outside groups might be lining up to take advantage of the giant loophole in Oklahoma laws this bill would create.
HB 2132 has passed the House and is awaiting a hearing in the Senate. Supporters of HB 2132 have argued Disney World was created through a “Prosperity District”. But HB 2132 goes dramatically beyond this special example. The Reedy Creek Improvement District (RCID) was created by the Florida Legislature at the request of the Walt Disney Company in 1967. The districts that would be allowed by HB 2132 could be created by anyone for almost any purpose. As much as we might enjoy visiting Disney World, do we really want to let anyone build a theme park, casino, or hog farm next door and exempt them from oversight by our state, city, and county?