Opportunity Zone Sponsor Blasts Bill That Would Rein In Program, Claiming Partisan Tactics
The intractable partisanship of the modern United States Congress has spread to opportunity zones in earnest.
House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-SC) introduced legislation on Wednesday that would curb the reach of opportunity zones, including removing zones seen as too affluent, The Post and Courier reports. The bill resembles legislation Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) introduced last week, including a provision that could disqualify already-in-progress developments from qualifying for the program's capital gains tax breaks.
Clyburn had made no secret of his distrust of the program in the recent past, saying that the benefits it purported to offer low-income communities are "smoke and mirrors," the Post and Courier reports. But one of Clyburn's fellow South Carolinian statesmen thinks he has ulterior motives.
Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC), one of the bill's original sponsors, has put forward another piece of legislation, also co-sponsored by Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), codifying certain reporting requirements meant to ensure that communities themselves would see benefits. Scott said over the summer that he would rather end the opportunity program altogether than see it used as a tax dodge for the rich.
Scott said Clyburn's bill is meant "to damage the program for purely partisan reasons," and that his own legislation is sufficient to address abuse concerns, the Post and Courier reports.
Scott took particular issue with a provision in Clyburn's bill banning qualified opportunity funds from investing in certain types of businesses, including casinos, luxury apartments, stadiums, parking lots and healthcare centers.
“This is absolutely egregious, as we should be looking for ways to help improve the health of folks living in zones where the average life expectancy is three years shorter than the national average and the average obesity rate is significantly higher than the national average,” Scott said in response to the inclusion of healthcare as a banned use, the Post and Courier reports.
The drumbeat for reform of the opportunity zone program has gotten much louder from Congressional Democrats after a series of reports alleging that some census tracks had been picked to benefit the friends of either the state governors that signed off on the zones, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin or President Donald Trump himself.
Scott and Booker have acknowledged the issues with some opportunity zones, but both have publicly cautioned against taking drastic action that could imperil the program's potential successes. Booker co-authored an open letter asking the Inspector General of the Treasury to investigate suspiciously selected zones, and Scott pointed to his own bill as part of the needed reform.
“Instead of trying to take down opportunity zones because of their distaste for President Trump and our successful tax reform package, I invite Democrats to come to the table and work together on a path forward,” Scott told the Post and Courier.