Opportunity Zones: I Told You This Was A Shit Idea Three Years Ago!

by Travis Mateer

Three years ago the title of my post about Trump-enabled Opportunity Zones was a question: What Will Missoula Get With Trump’s Opportunity Zone?

I’m not sure the answer matters, since Missoula is mostly ignorant regarding why the question is being asked in the first place. Maybe they assume our illuminated braintrust is being HONEST when they talk about tools and development and how the ONLY tool they have is Tax Increment Financing to incentivize development.

If you judge Opportunity Zones by what they CLAIM to do, then they’re a failure, which this Bloomberg article goes into detail describing. But if you understand that wealth and local enablers give ZERO FUCKS about actually helping poor people, then the Opportunity Zones aren’t failures at all, and have successfully allowed wealth to avoid capital gains tax liability by using this Trump-enabled policy.

Here is a little context about how this policy came to be from the Bloomberg article:

After stepping away from his role as Facebook’s president, Napster founder Sean Parker was on a trip to Tanzania in 2007 when he hit on the idea of tapping the capital gains of rich people to fund new investments in impoverished communities, where they would spur economic growth. Or so he predicted.

Parker turned that kernel into a full-fledged proposal for “Opportunity Zones” within the U.S., launching a think tank called the Economic Innovation Group (EIG) to spread the good news. EIG proposed establishing thousands of OZs, as they became known, in low-income census tracts throughout the country. Investors with substantial capital gains could dramatically reduce their tax liability if they made long-term investments in businesses or real estate projects within OZs. Embraced by Republican Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina and Democratic Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey, Opportunity Zones were signed into law by President Donald Trump as part of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017.

Yep, that Napster douchebag is the guy who got this policy tucked away in Trump’s Tax Cut bill. And what has been the result?

Was it wise to roll out a massive tax break designed to help impoverished areas with only a minimum of restrictions and reporting requirements? That’s one of the key questions that David Wessel, a former Wall Street Journal and Boston Globe reporter who’s now a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, explores in his new book, Only the Rich Can Play: How Washington Works in the New Gilded Age. Wessel explains how a Silicon Valley entrepreneur with no policy experience was quietly able to implement one of the most important — and controversial — anti-poverty programs in a generation. (It took months for most journalists to notice the significance of OZs, buried within the 2017 tax bill.)

As Wessel recounts, the Opportunity Zone program has since been on the receiving end of a torrent of criticism. Several projects — like Baltimore’s Port Covington project or a new hotel in New Orleans’ Warehouse District that was built with funds from an OZ fund established by former Trump aide Anthony Scaramucci — appear not to need the tax break. Other developments that take advantage of the program, such as self-storage facilities, offer little in the way of community benefits.

All of this was VERY predictable, but since our media sucks so bad, it’ll probably come as a surprise to low-information casualties of the information war that this development tool is NOT helping poor people, as intended.

Since that first post in 2018, I’ve written several other posts about Opportunity Zones in Missoula. I wrote about how Opportunity Zones Connect Mayor Engen to Trump and Thatcher, and I wrote about getting TOZ’d in Zoo Town, and this one about the consequence of saying no to inclusionary zoning.

One of the takeaways I’ve learned from covering this topic over the years is people with money (and their public enablers) just do what they want, and FUCK the critics and experts if they say it won’t work. That sentiment comes through in the Q&A of the Bloomberg piece:

I’ve not seen any credible economists argue that the reason programs like Empowerment Zones and Enterprise Zones weren’t more successful was that they made it too cumbersome to invest. Did I miss something?

Well, you’re just not talking to the right people! [Laughs] No, I think that probably is the conclusion of serious scholars.

But Sean Parker thinks like a lot of arrogant guys from Silicon Valley. The fact that all the experts said this isn’t a good idea was probably something that motivated him to do it rather than a discouragement. He and the EIG team thought that there was money on the sidelines, and that it would go into these areas if only we didn’t make it so difficult to get a tax break. But I agree with you that people who study these things did not agree with their interpretation.

It doesn’t matter if the critics are right, just like it didn’t matter to our WOKE political establishment that this development tool they are promoting came from THE GREAT ORANGE MENACE himself. Nope, as long as the money is going to the “right” people, political ideology doesn’t enter in to the equation.

This will become more obvious (if it’s not painfully so already) as Missoula’s West Broadway plan moves through the municipal bowels toward a final draft. Here’s the development pimp, Gomer Kidston, writing a piece of alleged “reporting” about re-developing this arterial approach to our downtown core:

While planners acknowledge that it could take years for the area to evolve, the vision may have a head start given that the city owns several properties within the planning area. That includes the Sleepy Inn property and Missoula Water, both of which will be redeveloped in accordance to the plan’s vision.

Those efforts would likely involve a public-private partnership and give the city a voice in the project’s final outcome.

“It’s exciting to have a master plan for a district where we control so much land in,” said City Council member Jordan Hess. “As the Sleepy Inn site is redeveloped and the Missoula Water site, there’s a great opportunity to be a leader as the city in all our goals in this area.”

This area of Missoula will continue to be a useful demonstration of the Woke Fascism I wrote about a few days ago because so many sectors are entangled in Missoula’s gentrification schemes, including non-profits, public officials, and Florida consulting firms, like the one developing THIS plan:

“This plan provides more specific guidance on what this area can be to provide guidance to private and public investment,” said Rob Platkowski with Dover, Kohl and Partners, the consultants retained by the city to development plan. “It’s a starting point for conversations.”

Remember Dover Kohl and Partners? I do, because I wrote about their connection to an incoming Development Director (who ended up NOT taking the job) in 2020, and a few months later, I continued covering the curious use of this Florida consulting firm.

The schemes in this town just keep steamrolling forward while our elected officials keep claiming that some form of TRICKLE DOWN economics will lift all boats, eventually.

This is BULLSHIT and the evidence is clear, from homeless camp to homeless camp, Missoula continues gentrifying regular people out of existence in this town so wealth can KEEP MAKING MONEY with complicated subsidies and development schemes.

Are you looking forward to four more years of this shit, Missoula?

About Travis Mateer

I'm an artist and citizen journalist living and writing in Montana. You can contact me here: willskink at yahoo dot com
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