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IRS Finalizes OZ Regulations Just As Senators Take New Aim

IRS Finalizes OZ Regulations Just As Senators Take New Aim
Develop founder and CEO Steve Glickman and Sen. Tim Scott, who worked together in forming the legislation that became opportunity zones, discuss the program at Bisnow's Opportunity Zones Summit in Washington, D.C., on June 26, 2019.

The long-awaited finalization of the rules governing opportunity zone investing are finally ready — but there's one final step.

On Friday, the IRS and Treasury Department submitted their final set of regulations to the Office of Management and Budget, which will now review them before they can be released to the public.

There is no set deadline for the OMB's review process, but the White House is exerting pressure to finish before the end of the year, said Steve Glickman, who helped craft the policy when he was with the Economic Innovation Group.

The same day, Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), one of the opportunity zone law's original co-sponsors, introduced a bill that would impose a series of reporting requirements on investors to measure the socioeconomic effects of OZ investment. The bill, with Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) among its co-sponsors, would also require the Treasury Department and IRS to submit to Congress a host of national data annually and every five years.

Unlike the original opportunity zone law, and a bill Scott introduced earlier this year to add reporting requirements, this bill has no Democratic co-sponsors.

Legislation introduced by Democrats in both the House of Representatives and Senate have ignited partisan politics in recent months, but the concept of opportunity zones still enjoys bipartisan support at the federal level and with plenty of states and cities, Glickman said.

“As we get closer to 2020, there’s been a response from some more progressive Democrats to news articles that have tied the OZ program with perceived negative behavior from investors associated with [President Donald] Trump," Glickman said. "I think that has created an irresistible need to craft a bill that signifies the Democrat response to that in an election year."

IRS Finalizes OZ Regulations Just As Senators Take New Aim

Getting the reporting requirements passed is another hurdle. Due to the length of time it takes to compile and analyze tax data, Glickman believes there is little cause for rushing a reporting requirements bill.

“Everyone is putting their mark in the sand, and I think there’s some interparty conversation on how to approach this, but none of it is especially controversial," Glickman said. "I do think there’s broad consensus that there needs to be pretty robust data reporting.”

Even if the final regulations are indeed released before the end of the year, it is unlikely that they will become actionable information. Right now, investors are looking to capitalize on a Dec. 31 deadline to receive a 15% tax discount on capital gains invested into qualified opportunity funds.

Even so, Glickman believes the floodgates of investment will open as some had expected when opportunity zones were first created.

“I think it will have a huge impact on investment activity, particularly from the biggest-ticket institutional, corporate and high net worth investors who are more risk-averse and can wait to see how the regulations shape out,” Glickman said.

In a statement announcing his latest legislation, Scott's office said that opportunity funds have targeted about $64B in capital raising, and have met about 15% of that goal, citing reporting from professional services firm Novogradac.

That amounts to about $10B, which Glickman told Bisnow makes it the most lucrative federal tax incentive program for this year, ahead of the New Markets Tax Credit.