VP Mike Pence plans visit to South Carolina to tour Opportunity Zones with Tim Scott

Vice President Mike Pence will be in Columbia, S.C., Thursday to tour a designated “Opportunity Zone” with the program’s champion, U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C.

According to a White House official, Pence will visit “a newly-built, local movie theater” and the Meeting Place Church.

Pence’s trip, at Scott’s invitation, will be the latest overture from within President Donald Trump’s administration in support of Opportunity Zones, an initiative enacted as part of the 2017 Republican tax law that provides tax incentives to anyone making a long-term investment in certain economically distressed areas.

Trump’s daughter and senior adviser, Ivanka Trump, has praised the program. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has made expediting implementation of Opportunity Zones a top priority within his agency.

Trump himself also has personally latched onto the concept, late last year announcing the creation of a new “Opportunity and Revitalization Council” that will direct federal resources to bolster Opportunity Zones.

On Thursday, Pence is set to deliver “formal remarks to the community and once again reaffirm President Trump’s commitment to encourage development in Opportunity Zones to combat poverty and geographic inequality around the country,” the White House official said.

The excursion in Columbia also will be Scott’s most high-profile stop to date in his nationwide “Opportunity Tour.” For the past year, he has worked his way around the country to visit communities where Opportunity Zones are being established, aiming to both promote the program and to show voters that Republicans have a plan to help the poor.

In many ways, the Opportunity Zones program is an anti-poverty platform tailor-made for the GOP. Local leaders, not the federal government, get the most discretion in choosing Opportunity Zones. Then, the private sector takes over. It’s nod to the party’s preference for empowering states and individuals rather than handing down dictates from Washington.

Opportunity Zones have come under scrutiny, however. Some skeptics wonder whether the program was largely designed to add to the wealth of already-wealthy real estate developers, pointing out that Ivanka Trump’s husband, fellow White House adviser Jared Kushner, has investments in designated Opportunity Zones.

Other critics caution that there are so few rules governing the designation of Opportunity Zones that new investments could hasten gentrification in some communities selected for inclusion.

But Democrats also support and defend Opportunity Zones, including Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin and 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Cory Booker, a U.S. Senator from New Jersey.

“Come to my community and tell me you want to stop legislation that is going to make a difference to low-income folks in America,” said Booker, also a former mayor of Newark, New Jersey.