Connecting state and local government leaders

White House Will Launch Multi-Agency Council Focused on Opportunity Zones

In this April 26, 2018, photo a man walks by a closed restaurant along Bergen Street in an Opportunity Zone in Newark, N.J.

In this April 26, 2018, photo a man walks by a closed restaurant along Bergen Street in an Opportunity Zone in Newark, N.J. AP Photo

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Connecting state and local government leaders

The council will engage with state and local government officials on development in zones, a White House adviser said.

President Trump signed an executive order Wednesday to launch a 13-agency council that will focus on directing existing federal resources toward areas eligible for the Opportunity Zones program.

The economic development initiative, created by last year's massive federal tax overhaul, is meant to lure investment to distressed census tracts by providing investors sizable tax breaks on capital gains.

"This council will coordinate efforts across the entire federal government to deliver jobs, investment and growth to the communities that need it the most," Trump said during an event at the White House where he signed the directive.

"For decades, job growth and investment have been concentrated in a few major metropolitan areas. This has created a geographic disparity," added the president, who built support during his election campaign in parts of the country wracked by economic declines.

Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson will chair the new panel—the White House Opportunity and Revitalization Council.

Ja'Ron Smith, special assistant to the president for legislative affairs said during a call with reporters on Wednesday morning that the council will engage with state and local government officials. The order specifically calls for it to do so.

"That’s the most important part of what the executive order is doing," he said. "It’s showing federal leadership on how we plan to work with state and local leaders to ensure the success of Opportunity Zones."

Wednesday's announcement follows a critical report by the Associated Press on Tuesday about how the president's daughter Ivanka Trump, and her husband, Jared Kushner, who both serve as White House advisers, have investments that could benefit from the program.

Ivanka Trump appeared at the White House event where the president signed the executive order.

Trump was planning to travel to Baltimore for Wednesday's announcement but cancelled that trip earlier this week.

Among the matters the council is supposed to evaluate is whether and how agencies can prioritize support for Opportunity Zones in their grants, financing, and other assistance.

The executive order also calls for a number of reports.

It says that 210 days from today, in July of 2019, the council is to submit to the president a list of recommended changes to federal laws, regulations, policies and programs, that would encourage public and private investment in distressed areas, including the zones.

Within one year, the panel is supposed to offer suggestions for changes at the federal level to help state, local and tribal governments better "identify, use, and administer" federal resources in Opportunity Zones and other struggling communities.

Additionally, Trump's order instructs the council to look at what data, metrics and methods can be used to measure the effectiveness of public and private investments in the zones.

Departments that will be part of the group include: HUD, Treasury, Justice, Interior, Agriculture, Commerce, Labor, Health and Human Services, Transportation, Energy, Education, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Small Business Administration.

A senior administration official on the call with Smith said that the White House had already identified over 150 different actions they're considering taking to help streamline and target various programs related to the council's planned work.

Apart from the council, the official said there are no discussions taking place for now about expanding the number of census tracts that are designated as "zones," or extending the program's timeline. 

There are currently about 8,700 zones eligible for investment from special funds that are getting established under the program.

Pastor Donte Hickman, of Southern Baptist Church in Baltimore, is involved in community development work taking place in that city and was one of those on hand at the White House event.

Baltimore, he said, was prepared to be a "demonstration project" for a national urban revitalization strategy. "We have the plan, we have the property, we have the people, we have the professional expertise and we have the prospectus," Hickman added.

This story has been updated with additional comments and further details about the executive order.

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Bill Lucia is a Senior Reporter for Government Executive's Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.

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