Opportunity zones are mostly a sham

Opportunity zones are mostly a sham

The federal Opportunity Zone program, written into the 2017 federal tax cut law, has been pitched as a way to drive investments in the low-income communities that investors and developers often avoid. But in practice, the program has become another way for wealthy people to avoid paying taxes. The New York Times editorial board

Many members of Congress — including a large number of Democrats — saw merit in encouraging development in downtrodden areas. But Congress failed to write a law that directed dollars into those areas, and the flaws have been compounded by the Trump administration’s interpretation and administration of the program. The law, for instance, allowed the inclusion of a limited number of neighborhoods adjacent to low-income areas. As anyone who has spent time in an American city knows, this definition includes some very wealthy areas. And in the hands of the Treasury Department, the language of the law was capaciously interpreted to include fully 56 percent of the nation’s census tracts, an astonishing figure.


Rethinking rules that limit workers’ power
So-called “right-to-work” laws, which limit the ability of workers to fight effectively for better working conditions, were first instituted in the 1940s, mostly in Southern states where members of the white elite and of the white working class did not want black laborers to move into the middle class (Louisiana’s law dates to 1976). In the 2010s, midwestern legislatures, moving further to the right, began an anti-union revival, implementing such rules in former union-strongholds like Michigan, Wisconsin and West Virginia. Now, Virginia’s newly elected General Assembly is poised to re-examine state laws that make it harder for workers to organize. Charles Lane writes in the Washington Post

In practical terms, the stakes may be more limited than activists on either side suggest, at least in the short term. Of Virginia’s 3.8 million workers, only 222,000 were covered by union contracts in 2018, with 176,000 of them paying dues, according to the Labor Department. The 45,000 difference represents the modest number of people who could be newly required to pay dues. Legalizing public-sector bargaining would not enhance unions’ treasuries because of the Supreme Court’s 2018 Janus ruling, which essentially imposed a ban on mandatory dues collection in the public sector nationwide. Nevertheless, repealing right-to-work in Virginia after 72 years would be symbolically potent, given the state’s historic role as a bastion of anti-union conservatism.


Homeless shelter falls victim to gentrification
The building that houses the Ozanam Inn, a shelter that has operated in the New Orleans warehouse district for 64 years, has been sold to developers with plans for a hotel and parking garage. While the future of the Ozanam Inn is uncertain, many are seeing this change as symbolic of New Orleans’ increasing gentrification. Anthony McAuley of Nola.com | The Times-Picayune has more

The building is in an area that has seen a surge of development over the past decade. In the past four years alone, hundreds of apartments and condominiums have been built there, and several large projects are proposed, including a 140,000-square-foot condo and retail development a block away that would include a high-end, bowling-focused entertainment and restaurant operation.


Taxing the rich to save Social Security
No matter how high their income, Americans currently pay Social Security payroll taxes on only the first $132,900 of earnings. As a result, very wealthy people pay a substantially smaller chunk of their earnings in Social Security taxes than the rest of us. Many Democrats want to raise that cap. Neil Irwin explains the argument for the New York Times’s Upshot blog

Some Democrats in the thick of the presidential race and on Capitol Hill now seek to change or eliminate that cap — potentially placing a new double-digit tax on high earners, with several plans focusing on earnings above $250,000. This would pump vastly more money into Social Security, enabling more generous benefits and helping sustain the finances of a program that could be forced to slash benefits in the decades ahead if nothing is done. 


Number of the Day
37% – The share of female-led households living below the poverty line in Louisiana. (Source: U.S. Census Bureau)