I recently went on a ride-along with a detective from one of our city police departments. I wanted to see firsthand the challenges faced by people living in impoverished neighborhoods in Salt Lake County. It was an eye-opening experience to see how school resources, family life, and neighborhood attributes all can impact the overall success of families in our county. It also motivated me to work harder to help our county residents build better lives for their families.
While there are many policy approaches to improve prospects for Utahns in these kinds of communities, one I want to highlight here is tied to opportunity.
While there’s an appropriate role for government, I believe the best way to fight poverty is to more effectively connect people with economic opportunity. A really exciting new policy tool to do just that is the designation of “Opportunity Zones.”
Here are a couple good articles on opportunity zones courtesy of the New York Times and the Economic Innovation Group. But in a nutshell: an opportunity zone is a census tract with low median household income and high poverty, designated by the Governor as available for incentivized private investment. Investors can put money into these zones to promote new business growth, expand existing businesses, or for real estate development, and get some breaks on their capital gains taxes for doing so. This is particularly important for areas that have few job opportunities, sluggish business expansion, or affordable housing challenges.
There are three things I love about this.
First: if successful, county residents who are struggling to make ends meet will benefit from increased economic opportunity. That means a they can earn a better life for themselves and their families. I also believe there’s tremendous untapped potential in these communities, and we need these county residents to contribute their passion, ideas, and work ethic to help make Salt Lake County’s economy even stronger.
Second: this is not an expansion of taxpayer-funded government programs. Using the strength of the free enterprise system to empower people to improve their lives is always a better option for those who benefit directly, and society overall.
And third: this represents a lot of bipartisan work. Here is a great discussion between South Carolina Senator Tim Scott, and New Jersey Senator Cory Booker about their work on this issue. Every time Republicans and Democrats can come together as colleagues to find consensus policies to leverage the private sector and create more opportunity for Americans, we ought to laud the success and replicate it.
I appreciate our county economic development team who helped drive this effort in Salt Lake County. They brought a list of proposed zones to the County Council, and we gave our support to send them to Governor Herbert’s office for review before designating the final list of opportunity zones.
You can get more information about opportunity zones here, and view a map of the zones that have been designated here.
*This article originally appeared in City Journals in their August 2018 Issue
Aimee Winder Newton has been serving on the Salt Lake County Council since January 2014. She is the current chair of the council. Her district encompasses Murray, Taylorsville, West Valley City and West Jordan, and a small portion of South Salt Lake and Millcreek... [read more]