"Give Us More Red Tape!" Opportunity Zone Investors Implore IRS
Financial advisors, lawyers, asset managers and investors all have asked the IRS and U.S. Treasury officials to require them to report more data on Opportunity Zone investments — a seemingly odd turn of events since that crowd usually seeks to trim such red-tape tasks when they participate in other government tax-exemption programs.
“It’s one of the common denominators — people would like to have certain economic reporting done to make sure the legislative intent of the program is met,” says Matthew Peurach, a law partner in Atlanta’s Morris Manning & Martin, who advises asset managers sponsoring middle-market Opportunity Zone funds.
Opportunity Zones entered the investment world’s lexicon with the passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017. With that legislation, Congress identified capital gains tax relief as a way to induce investment into long-neglected U.S. neighborhoods. Ultimately, the U.S. Treasury approved some 8,700 census tracts, located in all 50 states, as economically disadvantaged enough to be eligible for Opportunity Zone investments. With the program, investors may be able to defer capital gains taxes — and even avoid some entirely — if they use recently-realized capital gains to buy stakes for the long haul in the designated communities.
To achieve the maximum tax benefits, investors are required to make a 10-year commitment and to receive maximum tax-sheltering benefits, investors must purchase their stakes by a December 2019 deadline.
His clients want more reporting requirements, but not too many more, Peurach says.
“The lack of red tape is what is great about this program, compared to other tax-incentive programs,” says Peurach. But his clients would like the government officials to add “doable” reporting requirements, such as reports to local governments about the economic impact of investments, he says.
The extra data eventually would help prod Congress to reauthorize the program, and ultimately lead to more stability for his clients’ investments in the designated zones, Peurach says.
Expect no arguments countering the outcry for more data-reporting requirements from the stakeholders in the designated zones. The additional reporting will “illuminate where the incentive has been successful and help identify areas for both improvement and modification in the future, Stefen Pryor, Rhode Island’s Secretary of Commerce, told IRS and Treasury officials at a public hearing held in mid-February about the program’s regulations.
They also want more data-reporting requirements, investors’ representatives told the government officials at the same February meeting. “We believe that data will be essential to creating new economic opportunities and to ensure that people living and working the zones today are the ultimate beneficiaries,” Fran Seegull told the officials. Seegull is the executive director of U.S. Impact Investing Alliance, an advocacy organization which has 800 investors and financial intermediaries as members who engage in impact investing.
Additional data will benefit investors who face tight deadlines when participating the Opportunity Zone program, as they must invest capital gains within 180 days after realizing them to become eligible for the tax exemptions.
“It is important that we establish tools and quickly identify opportunities,” Seegull told the government officials.
“The Department can facilitate these efforts through appropriately-scaled collection and reporting of basic opportunity fund data,” she said. The publicly-available information would “enable investors, operating business owners, developers and other interested parties to connect with opportunity funds serving their markets,” she added.
Investors gain better odds of persuading Congress to renew the program if they arm themselves not just with anecdotes but also data, says Neil Faden, a law partner at Manatt, Phelps & Phillips in New York, who has helped organize Opportunity Zone funds and has counseled investors eyeing the zones. “I’m concerned that this program will be good for communities and yet we may not be able to prove that to anybody,” says Faden about the prospects of the IRS failing to bolster the existing minimal reporting requirements.