Deb Billado: Vermonters benefit from Trump Opportunity Zones program

Editor’s note: This commentary is by Deb Billado, chairwoman of the Vermont GOP.

As part of our continued national economic prosperity, as well as the efforts of Vermont Republicans to grow the economy right here at home, we know that economic incentives through targeted tax relief are a solution that works. We only need to look at the hard work of Republican leaders and the results of the successful tax relief programs they’ve implemented to see this important progress.

One excellent example of this is the President’s “Opportunity Zones,” which were included in the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act to stimulate economic activity, job creation, housing, and other long-term investments in struggling areas of our country. Opportunity Zones are designated areas for certain economic benefits, notably the deferral (and in some cases, the elimination) of capital gains tax liabilities for crucial investments in key areas of our nation.

Deborah Billado

Deborah Billado

Today, these Opportunity Zones encompass nearly 35 million Americans and are expected to leverage an astonishing $100 billion in private capital. This represents real economic progress for vulnerable communities in all 50 states and U.S. territories. According to Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, these Opportunity Zones have helped flip negative growth rates of property values to “a positive growth rate of 20 percent following Opportunity Zones designation.”

Vermont eagerly joined the program designating 25 opportunity zones from Southern Vermont to the Northeast Kingdom, representing 85,000 Vermonters (or over 13 percent of our population). In fact, we’re starting to see the tangible benefits of this crucial tax relief program, with properties already being purchased for redevelopment.

At the state level, Republicans are championing Vermont-based tax incentives of their own. In 2017, we enabled six new Tax-Increment Financing (TIF) districts, which have been responsible for revitalizing key areas of Vermont. Take for example downtown Hartford, Vermont, which will see an increase of $60 million in private development and an expected grand list hike of nearly $100 million.

Other incentives include the Downtown and Village Centers Tax Credit Program, which has provided tax incentives for economic development, helping rehabilitate communities across the state, from the Putnam Block in Bennington to downtown Bradford. This program has experienced an added $400,000 in tax credits over the last two and a half years.

Lastly, in 2019, Republican leaders were able to secure a rollback of a substantial obstacle to incentivizing growth. The “Land Gains Tax” raised little money and was a monster to implement, but also proved to be a major impediment to development, with tax rates as high as 80 percent! Thankfully, this tax was all-but eliminated this year, with the changes set to take effect on January 1, 2020.

The proof is real: tax incentives to grow the economy work. From federal Opportunity Zones to Vermont’s Downtown and Village Tax Credits, Republican leaders are charting a course to a more prosperous nation that will revitalize otherwise economically-strained areas. We should be proud of this important work that is indicative of the incredible progress Republican leaders have made for our state and country.

Images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Public domain and Deborah Billado