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Monday, December 2, 2019

Rep. Rashida Tlaib Introduces Bill to Repeal 'Opportunity Zones': 'The American People Have Been Scammed'

Posted By on Mon, Dec 2, 2019 at 12:02 PM

click to enlarge MPAC NATIONAL/FLICKR CC
  • MPAC National/Flickr CC

Rep. Rashida Tlaib introduced legislation to repeal the controversial "Opportunity Zones" from the United States tax code in late November, following a series of bombshell ProPublica reports that found billionaires like Detroit's Dan Gilbert were benefiting from the laws.

The Repeal Opportunity Zones Act of 2019 (H.R. 5252) would explicitly repeal the Qualified Opportunity Zones (QOF) by amending the Internal Revenue Code of 1986. The bill was co-sponsored by Rep. Pramila Jayapal of the state of Washington.

"The American people have been scammed by Opportunity Zones," Tlaib said in a statement. "Opportunity Zones were supposed to help uplift low-income communities and those living in poverty, but instead we are seeing them benefit billionaires and their luxury projects. Our communities deserve resources and programs with proven track records to thrive — the current Opportunity Zone law fails to drive real benefits to low-income communities, instead often rewarding President Trump’s donors. We must repeal them to stop yet another form of corporate greed from hurting our communities and tarnishing our democracy."

Gilbert's Quicken Loans donated $750,000 to Trump's record-breaking $107 million inauguration committee, which is being investigated by federal prosecutors for potential money laundering, among other things. A ProPublica report published last month found that Gilbert appeared to receive preferential treatment in Michigan's implementation of the Opportunity Zones, and a tract of land in downtown Detroit that should have been deemed ineligible got mysteriously added to the list of eligible tracts after an email was sent suggesting coordination between the White House and Quicken Loans. Quicken Loans reps have essentially called the story "fake news," though they did not debunk many of its key findings. And even if some of Gilbert's real estate projects don't qualify for Opportunity Zone tax breaks, Gilbert would still stand to benefit, as property values tend to go up inside the Zones.

In addition to Gilbert, ProPublica's reporting also raised questions as to whether billionaire West Virginia governor Jim Justice and former Under Armor CEO Kevin Plank have also benefitted from Opportunity Zones. An August New York Times report found investment dollars from the program were going toward "high-end apartment buildings and hotels, storage facilities that employ only a handful of workers, and student housing in bustling college towns."

Tlaib has also called for an investigation into whether political donations influenced the designation of the Opportunity Zones. Sen. Cory Booker, Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, and Rep. Ron Kind have also called for investigations.

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