On the eve of Super Tuesday, where does each Democratic Presidential candidate stand on Opportunity Zones?
Federal Opportunity Zones legislation initially had broad bipartisan, bicameral support. Eventually, it was packaged as part of President Trump’s landmark tax legislation. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) passed along partisan lines in December 2017. And in the two-plus years since, the Opportunity Zones provision has become highly politicized, with Democratic lawmakers becoming increasingly critical of the tax incentive.
Meanwhile, President Donald Trump has thrown his support behind Opportunity Zones. In December 2018, the President announced the formation of the White House Opportunity and Revitalization Council. In April 2019, the White House hosted an Opportunity Zone conference, introducing Scott Turner as the Council’s executive director. Last month, Trump championed Opportunity Zones during his State of the Union speech, and addressed an Opportunity Now summit in Charlotte, NC.
If Trump is reelected, Opportunity Zones will continue to receive White House support. But what if a Democrat gets elected to the Presidency in November?
Each Democratic Presidential candidate has a new tax plan that would at least partially overturn the TCJA. To what extent, and where they may stand on the issue of Opportunity Zones, is presented below.
No Democratic candidate has publicly expressed more opposition to Opportunity Zones than Senator Bernie Sanders. Sanders has been a vocal opponent of the TCJA from the very get-go. Two months before the TCJA was enacted, Sanders criticized the legislation as “really bad policy” on ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos.
Sanders appears intent on repealing TCJA in favor of his tax plan on extreme wealth. In April 2019, Warren Gunnels, a senior policy adviser to Sanders, tweeted, “Yes we will repeal the Trump tax scam.”
In December 2019, Sanders explicitly referred to the Opportunity Zones tax incentive as a “scam” via Twitter, saying that he would “end this corrupt giveaway.”
Trump’s Opportunity Zone scam enriches the wealthy while millions of Americans struggle to get by. When we are in the White House, we are going to end this corrupt giveaway. https://t.co/F1tJzjztqm— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) December 17, 2019
Former Vice President Joe Biden likely would try to roll back at least some of the tax cuts in the TCJA, but probably not to the same extent that Sanders would attempt. In August 2019, at a rally in Boone County, IA, Biden said that he would eliminate “most all” of the TCJA tax cuts.
While Biden has not commented publicly about Opportunity Zones specifically, there is some evidence to suggest that he may have a soft spot for the policy. Three of his former advisers during his time as Vice President are Opportunity Zone supporters.
Steve Glickman, a former adviser to the Obama-Biden administration, is a co-founder and former CEO of the Economic Innovation Group, a bipartisan Washington economic research organization that helped create the Opportunity Zones policy. Glickman is now CEO of Develop Advisors, an Opportunity Zone fund advisory firm.
Jared Bernstein, senior fellow at the Center on Budget & Policy Priorities and a former economic adviser to Biden during his time as Vice President, has voiced support for the Opportunity Zone initiative. In September 2019, he authored an article defending Opportunity Zones in the wake of what he called a “woefully imbalanced piece” in the New York Times.
The University of Delaware’s Biden Institute hosted an Opportunity Zone summit in December 2018. Sarah Bianchi, the institute’s chair and former director of policy for Biden when he was Vice President, was one of the event’s keynote speakers.
Former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg briefly mentioned Opportunity Zones during a January 2020 campaign rally in Chicago. In a speech to supporters, he introduced his All-In Economy plan that would call for $100 billion in R&D investment into new “job factories.”
Drawing a contrast to his plan, he expressed disappointment in Opportunity Zones, claiming that they have been “hijacked by a few financial gamers.”
In a February 2020 op-ed for the New York Times, Bloomberg wrote that fixing inequality by taxing the wealthy is a top priority for him.
Senator Elizabeth Warren has not said anything publicly about Opportunity Zones in particular, but has made it clear that she would like to repeal the TCJA for her Medicare for All plan, which would include an Ultra-Millionaire Tax to address wealth inequality.
Update: Amy Klobuchar ended her campaign a few hours after this article was published.
Senator Amy Klobuchar has not spoken publicly about Opportunity Zones. But in 2015, she tweeted support of the North Minneapolis promise promise, a HUD program with some similarities to the Opportunity Zone initiative.
Glad N. Minneapolis named Promise Zone. Could boost good work being done by groups like Northside Achievement Zone. http://t.co/L7QbkcvcVj— Amy Klobuchar (@amyklobuchar) April 30, 2015
Klobuchar expressed some curiosity in the new Opportunity Zone policy as a member of the U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee, when in 2018 she sent Opportunity Zones-related questions to John Lettieri, co-founder, president, and CEO of the Economic Innovation Group.
Her questions centered around how Opportunity Zones could assist with rural economic recovery. In one of her questions, she expressed concern that rural zones could be “left behind.” Lettieri’s responses to those questions were submitted for the record during a hearing before the Committee in May 2018, titled The Promise of Opportunity Zones.
Klobuchar also spoke on a panel Addressing the Challenge of Workers & Communities Left Behind with Lettieri and Jared Bernstein (the former economic adviser to Biden) in 2017. Although the topic of Opportunity Zones did not explicitly come up, much of the discussion centered around economic ideas that undergird the Opportunity Zones policy.
During the fourth Democratic debate in Westerville, OH in October 2019, Klobuchar said that she would repeal “significant portions” of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.
Update: Pete Buttigieg ended his campaign as this article was being written.
Of the last six major Democratic candidates, former South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg is the only one who had publicly supported Opportunity Zones. (Although, this support was voiced only during his time as mayor, and never on the Presidential campaign trail.)
As South Bend mayor, Buttigieg was instrumental in advocating for nomination of the seven Opportunity Zones in and around his hometown. In April 2018, he tweeted that he was “pleased” by the nominations of several South Bend Opportunity Zone nominations by Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb.
Pleased that several South Bend locations have been nominated by @GovHolcomb as Opportunity Zones. We will work hard to make the most of investment possibilities that this opens up. https://t.co/VORHki7GON— Pete Buttigieg (@PeteButtigieg) April 19, 2018
In August 2018, in an article for Accelerator for America, he praised Opportunity Zones and laid out his vision for how the incentive could impact South Bend.
In January 2019 — just two weeks before forming an exploratory committee for his Presidential campaign — he tweeted support for community-driven Opportunity Zone investing.
For Opportunity Zones to deliver on their promise, communities must proactively guide investment to where it is needed and productive. That’s why South Bend has prepared a Community Prospectus for Opportunity Zone investing: https://t.co/jjgsKtPhUy— Pete Buttigieg (@PeteButtigieg) January 9, 2019
More recently, he has said that he plans to repeal Trump’s 2017 tax overhaul. In a January 2020 New York Times interview, he specifically cited the corporate tax rates, stating that he would want a “rollback wholesale of the Trump tax cuts with a special focus on what’s going on with the corporate-rate tax cut.”