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Critics tried reining in lucrative tax incentives in Houston. Nothing worked.

Tax increment financing has spawned hundreds of development zones across Texas since it was first authorized under state law in the 1980s. A handful of critics, lawmakers and city officials have tried reining in the program over the years, yet it keeps growing unhindered.

Even the earliest attempts to narrow the use of these zones have been undercut over time, making it easier to trap tax dollars for decades in areas that have a tax increment reinvestment zone, or TIRZ, while other neighborhoods struggle.

The 1981 law that first allowed the zones, for instance, originally included a sunset provision, like those in Texas’ other tax incentive laws. The provision said that the TIRZ law would expire in 1991 unless lawmakers renewed it. The clause later vanished, removing a layer of legislative oversight.

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