The average American does not know what an Opportunity Zone is yet. The average American is, however, very aware that a presidential election will occur next year. Opportunity Zones are about to take center stage at the presidential debates, increasing awareness and potentially putting new legislative energy around this important, new economic tool.
Over the next two nights 20 Democratic candidates will debate “regular” topics ranging from border security to health care, but there is one topic that is likely to make fresh headlines for the average American: Opportunity Zones.
Opportunity Zones are low- to moderate-income neighborhoods that governors from every state chose in 2018 based on tax laws that went into effect in December 2017. Inside these Opportunity Zones investors are offered generous tax advantages for making longer term investments. Some experts project that Opportunity Zones will deliver enormous benefits to private-sector investors and economic growth for low-income communities.
Since Opportunity Zones became law there has been much excitement and angst; excitement because certain real estate and business investments became more lucrative and angst because the law’s intention – job creation in underinvested areas – could be missed entirely.
What is interesting ahead of the presidential debates is that California Democratic Senator Kamala Harris, just released a white paper on Opportunity Zones and she will share the center of the stage with New Jersey Democratic Senator Cory Booker, one of the two bi-partisan authors of the Opportunity Zone legislation.
In her white paper, Reducing The Opportunity Gap, Senator Harris states that as president she would reform Opportunity Zones. Specifically, she states that she would “set new goals to make sure funds go to minority-owned small businesses, prioritize lowest-income neighborhoods, prioritize hiring in those neighborhoods, and have safeguards to ensure that housing projects that are built actually contain affordable units.”
Additionally, Senator Harris states “she will ensure that information on this program is collected and made public to ensure the reformed Opportunity Zones program achieves the program’s goal of improving the opportunity for people and communities most in need.” This appears consistent with legislation introduced by Senator Booker in May 2019 that would require investors to provide the Department of Treasury with important data so that it can measure the social impact being made around the country as a result of Opportunity Zones.
Altogether, as the Democratic presidential candidates seek to set themselves apart, Senators Booker and Harris will be at center stage likely discussing this important legislation. This debate has the potential to raise the average Americans’ awareness of Opportunity Zones, which is good for all, red and blue.