Nelson, FL lawmakers call on state to help communities facing economic hardship

Mar 23 • 116 Views • View Comments

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U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) and a group of Florida lawmakers sent a letter to Gov. Rick Scott Thursday urging him to designate communities in Florida facing the greatest amount of economic hardship as “opportunity zones,” to encourage more private investment and economic growth in those areas.

“One thing we should all be able to agree on is that more needs to be done to help expand economic opportunity in the state, particularly in those communities with limited access to affordable healthcare, quality education, and affordable housing,” the lawmakers wrote.

Under the tax code, governors can designate up to 25 percent of eligible low-income communities in each state as opportunity zones—whereby investors can get a tax break if they invest in the area.

The lawmakers went on to highlight areas of the state facing the greatest challenges: “As you know, many parts of Florida have not fared well over the last several years, including many rural areas and communities of color. Therefore, we ask that you designate areas as opportunities zones based on the amount of economic hardship they face—with special consideration for Historically Underutilized Business Zones (HUBZones) … areas with a readily retrain-able workforce, economically-depressed rural areas, and other areas that have not benefitted from some of the decisions made by state officials in recent years.”

There are over 1,699 low-income community census tracts in Florida, allowing Gov. Scott to designate more than 400 communities.

In addition to Nelson, the letter was signed by Florida Reps. Charlie Crist, Kathy Castor, Val Demings, Alcee Hastings, Al Lawson, Stephanie Murphy, Darren Soto and Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

Following is text of the letter and a .pdf copy is available here.

March 22, 2018

The Honorable Richard Scott
Governor, State of Florida
Plaza 05, The Capitol
400 South Monroe St.
Tallahassee, FL 32399-001

Dear Governor Scott,

We are writing about the designation of opportunity zones in Florida and the need to help communities facing economic hardship. One thing we should all be able to agree on is that more needs to be done to help expand economic opportunity in the state, particularly in those communities with limited access to affordable healthcare, quality education, and affordable housing.

As you know, many parts of Florida have not fared well over the last several years, including many rural areas and communities of color. Over 2.9 million Floridians live in poverty, including 21 percent of children in the state. Meanwhile, over 2.4 million Floridians lack health insurance and around 52 percent of the state is burdened with student loan debt, amounting to about $80 billion in total outstanding debt. Around 70 percent of low-income renters are stuck paying more than 40 percent of their income to rent, over 32,000 Floridians are known to be homeless—living on the street, in shelters, or in places deemed uninhabitable for humans—and far too many homeowners in the state still have underwater mortgages. All the while, since 2015, there’s been over 250 mass layoffs.

Federal law gives you the opportunity to fix this and finally give these communities the attention they deserve. Under the new tax law, you can designate 25 percent of eligible census tracts as opportunity zones—where investors can earn investment income tax-free and, in the process, help these communities emerge from years of neglect. Regardless of how you feel about the new tax law, we believe it’s important to work together to ensure the law is working in the best interests of those most in need, and not just for the well-connected.

Therefore, we ask that you designate areas as opportunities zones based on the amount of economic hardship they face—with special consideration for Historically Underutilized Business Zones (HUBZones), areas with attractive private investment opportunities that can leverage existing assets such as transit infrastructure and access to other investment incentive programs, areas with a readily retrain-able workforce, economically-depressed rural areas, and other areas that have not benefitted from some of the decisions made by state officials in recent years. In making this decision, we also ask that you listen to local leaders, who know their communities best.

We greatly appreciate your attention to this matter and stand ready to help you build a better and brighter Florida.

Sincerely,

 

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