The original Senate authors of the opportunity zone tax incentives plan to introduce a bill to reinstate requirements for the Treasury Department to collect data on and disclose the tax breaks’ progress—a provision lawmakers took out of the 2017 tax law before its passage.
Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J) and Tim Scott (R-S.C.)—who were behind the 2017 Investing in Opportunity Act legislation, which lawmakers folded into the tax overhaul—will file a bill the week of May 6 that both includes and builds upon the data reporting requirements in their earlier bill (S. 293), a senior Senate aide told Bloomberg Tax. The 2017 effort was scrapped when GOP senators triggered procedural rules to avoid a filibuster. Sens. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) and Todd Young (R-Ind.) will also sponsor the bill, the aide said.
The legislation would mark a win for transparency advocates, such as the U.S. Impact Investing Alliance and the Urban Institute, who’ve asked the Internal Revenue Service to track whether investors taking advantage of the incentives are helping, hurting, or even ignoring the 8,764 mainly low-income census tracts the tax breaks were meant to help—despite the absence of reporting requirements in the statute.
“Already leaders in rural and urban communities across the country are beginning to use Opportunity Zones as a valuable new tool to drive high-impact investment into their communities,” Booker said in an emailed statement. “This legislation will restore and strengthen transparency measures to ensure Opportunity Zones lives up to its original promise and delivers real impact to those who need it most.”
The Treasury secretary would be required to collect data on the number of opportunity funds created, their holdings, their asset classes, and the economic ripple effects in the communities in which they invest, such as job creation, poverty reduction, new businesses, and “other metrics as determined by the Secretary,” according to the bill.
Data collected on the investments would also include which type of real estate activity is funded, its square footage, and the number of full-time employees. The bill additionally stipulates that while the data would have to be made public, it would also have to be anonymous.
The Treasury secretary would have to report the information to Congress annually, starting five years after the bill became law.
$26 Billion Capacity
The bill’s passage may be far off, as Democrats in control of the House intend to hold multiple hearings on the 2017 tax law before making any changes to it.
Under tax code Section 1400Z-2, the law allows taxpayers to take their profits from stock and other investments and plug them into opportunity funds that invest in the designated census tracts. They can then defer their capital gains tax liability and even see some of that liability forgiven, depending on how long they hold onto the investments. If they hold the funds for a decade, any appreciation of the assets in which they invested can be tax-free.
Investors have already set up more than 100 funds, with $26 billion in investing capacity, as of April 12, according to a list compiled by Novogradac & Co. LLP.
Critics of the incentives worry they’ll accelerate gentrification, to the benefit of the wealthy, or provide a tax perk to real estate investors who already planned to develop hot markets. Others worry barren rural areas could slip through the cracks unnoticed.