By U.S. Senators Shelley Moore Capito and Tim Scott
When the U.S. Senate voted in support of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act last December, we did so to help millions of families across West Virginia and the nation.
Four million Americans have received bonuses or wage and benefit increases since tax reform’s passage, and more than a million jobs have been created nationwide.
The child tax credit and standard deduction were doubled, simplifying the tax process for many and putting more money back in the pockets of hardworking moms and dads. In fact, a typical family of four making $73,000 a year will save more than $2,000 on their next tax return.
Here in West Virginia, families and small businesses are already seeing the benefits of tax reform. And West Virginians are speaking out about the many different ways they are feeling the positive effects of the tax cuts.
Employers have been able to expand their operations, give back to their employees and create new jobs. Hardworking men and women have been able to more easily cover household expenses and invest in their children’s education.
And some have even been able to increase their charitable contributions to support community efforts like fighting the opioid epidemic. These are changes that are enriching and improving lives across the state.
Even with all of this, potentially some of the biggest benefits of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act are yet to come. This past May, Sen. Shelley Moore Capito and West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice announced that the U.S. Treasury Department has certified 55 Opportunity Zones across West Virginia — a new provision that has the potential to transform communities that have felt left behind for far too long.
More than 52 million Americans, including nearly 35 percent of West Virginians, live in census tracts defined as distressed and eligible for the Opportunity Zone program.
On Friday, we will visit three of these Opportunity Zones in Huntington and meet with local leaders from the public and private sectors to hear more about the economic challenges these areas face, as well as how they believe Opportunity Zones can make a difference.
So how do these zones work? There are currently more than $6 trillion in unrealized capital gains sitting on the sidelines. That means private investors are making money, but it is not being claimed, or realized, and reinvested.
Sen. Tim Scott worked to include his Investing In Opportunity Act, which Capito cosponsored, in the tax reform package in order to get these dollars moving. In exchange for long-term investment in Opportunity Zones up to 10 years but not less than 5 years, private investors would realize tax incentives that encourage that investment.
This is a win-win for both communities and those investing. It is not a new federal bureaucracy, but simply a pathway to prosperity.
The selection of the zones was powered by governors and local officials, not people sitting in a room in Washington, meaning each state had total control over their zone selection process.
Here in West Virginia, the potential uses for these dollars are wide-reaching. From increasing reliable broadband access and revitalizing areas that have seen tough economic times to helping diversify the economy and attracting new business and investment, these zones are really all about one thing at the end of the day: creating opportunity.
As the Treasury Department finalizes the rules for the Opportunity Zones over the next few months, the excitement over this new tool continues to grow. We know that too many families feel the door to success is closed, and it’s not because of an absence of creativity or work ethic, but the lack of opportunity.
As we will discuss in Huntington Friday, this program will help kick those doors wide open and bring hope back to communities where it has been lost.
This column was originally published in the Charleston Gazette-Mail.