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Town Hall Seattle: Civics Series

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Dec 8, 2021

The Trump-era Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) was passed in December of 2017; the tax code hadn’t seen such a massive overhaul in over 30 years. Bobbing along in a sea of sweeping changes sits the unassuming, pleasant-sounding “Opportunity Zone”— a type of investment with the potential to spur economic growth and job creation in “economically-distressed” communities, rewarding investors in those communities with substantial tax breaks. But, as David Wessel explained in his new book, Only the Rich Can Play, the tax break has done much more to benefit the super-rich and done little to bolster low-income communities.

How did this happen? How did Opportunity Zones quietly slip into the 2017 tax bill with little scrutiny? Wessel provided portraits of the consultants, political influencers, and proselytizers involved in bringing Opportunity Zones to fruition, starting with the silicon valley entrepreneur who developed and arranged for lobbying around the idea. And while Wessel does acknowledge that there are a few places where Opportunity Zones are supporting low-income communities, he argued that a better-designed program would have had a far more positive impact. What we’re ultimately left with is a system that once again leaves out the many in favor of the few.

David Wessel is director of the Hutchins Center on Fiscal & Monetary Policy at the Brookings Institution with 30 years of experience as a reporter, editor, and columnist at The Wall Street Journal. He is a New York Times best-selling author and shares two Pulitzer Prizes, one for Boston Globe stories in 1983 on the persistence of racism in Boston, and the other for stories in The Wall Street Journal in 2002 on corporate wrong-doing.

Buy the Book: Only the Rich Can Play: How Washington Works in the New Gilded Age (Hardcover) from Third Place Books

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