NEW BRITAIN – Mayor Erin Stewart flew to Washington, D.C. on Wednesday to discuss a new program for low-income communities with President Donald Trump and various other federal officials and business leaders.
The meeting, which began shortly after 2 p.m. in the Roosevelt Room, also had U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, R-South Carolina, Norfolk, Virginia’s Democratic Mayor Kenny Alexander, presidential advisor Ivanka Trump and many business leaders and entrepreneurs in attendance. Scott, along with U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, D-New Jersey, pushed for the inclusion of Opportunity Zones in the Congress’s recent tax overhaul. Stewart said Scott and Ivanka Trump led the meeting.
“I was one of only two mayors asked to come to give insight on how we would make the legislation work,” the Republican mayor told The Herald.
Congress’s Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 created “Opportunity Zones,” which aim to spur private investment in low-income communities. The program will provide tax incentives to investors who put money into these areas. In turn, these businesses or organizations re-invest money into Opportunity Funds for these Opportunity Zones.
“This is an opportunity to transform a community like mine,” Stewart told Trump and Scott following the meeting. “The poverty rate is high enough but we’re small enough that even an investment – even of a couple million dollars – would have the ability to transform lives and direct lives, and we’re really grateful.”
Jessie Knight Jr., a retired businessman turned education philanthropist, called the program a good way for the private sector to take a lead in revitalizing communities. Walter Davis, founding member of Peachtree Providence Partners, spoke highly of the program.
“What this does is gives a nontraditional way of capital to flow to these communities so that people on the ground are truly impacted,” Davis said during the meeting.
The number of communities that may be designated as Opportunity Zones may not exceed 25 percent of the total number of low-income communities in the state, according to the rules and regulations of the program. According to information from the federal Community Development Financial Institutions Fund, Connecticut has 48 qualifying low-income communities, including New Britain. This means the state could see 12 communities qualify as Opportunity Zones.
According to the U.S. Department of the Treasury, governors will nominate areas within their jurisdictions to be Opportunity Zones. In order to designate Opportunity Zones, governors and chief executive officers must make nominations by Wednesday, March 21 or request a single 30-day extension.
“We look forward to working with governors to implement this important provision that will encourage private investments in communities that need it the most,” Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin said in a statement last week. “The resulting benefits will be jobs and economic growth to move these communities forward and provide a brighter future.”
Stewart, recently created an exploratory committee for a potential run at governor. She is currently serving her third term as mayor after being reelected in November 2017. Stewart introduced herself to Trump as the youngest female Republican mayor in the country, to which Trump responded: “Oh, that’s very impressive. Very good.”
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