- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 26, 2000

The House took a break from its increasingly partisan fight over tax policy to approve on a 394-27 vote legislation that would provide $6 billion in tax relief and other incentives to blighted inner cities and forgotten country towns.

The bill adopts a Republican proposal originally advocated by Rep. J.C. Watts Jr., Oklahoma Republican to create 40 "renewal communities," eight of them in rural areas. It also borrows from President Clinton's New Markets Initiative by allowing nine new "empowerment zones," bringing the number of such zones to 40.

"This bill is not pro-Republican [or] pro-Democratic. It is just good for people," House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican, said after the vote.

"This is a model for what we ought to be doing" on all legislation, said House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt, Missouri Democrat.

While the nation as a whole is in its longest period of peacetime growth, "too many people living in America's poorest neighborhoods are still being left behind," Mr. Watts said.

Businesses operating in both types of designated areas would receive a variety of tax and regulatory breaks. Certain businesses in the Renewal Communities would receive an exclusion from capital gains taxes.

The bill also would provide for the sale of HUD-owned, but unoccupied homes in low-income neighborhoods to community development corporations and new HUD-licensed private investment companies that would issue government-backed bonds for large-scale projects in low-income or distressed areas.

"These people don't have a place to shop, they don't have a place to go out to dinner, they don't even have a place to get a job," Mr. Hastert said of the nation's hardest-hit communities. "This bill brings investment, jobs and opportunity."

In November at a meeting in Chicago, Mr. Hastert and President Clinton agreed to make the legislation a priority. Talks between their staff were completed in May, but the legislation had gone nowhere since.

In part, the bill was stalled by objections from Rep. Charles B. Rangel, New York Democrat, who wanted to see an immediate increase in the low-income housing credit, instead of the five-year phased-in increase the bill includes.

Republican leaders stuck with the original version of the bill and decided Monday to bring it directly to the House floor, avoiding the Ways and Means Committee on which Mr. Rangel is the highest-ranking Democrat.

Despite the maneuver, Mr. Rangel voted for the bill, calling it a "proud day" proving "what can be accomplished when we put aside partisanship and work toward a common goal."

The only real controversy in the bill is a provision that would provide federal funding to faith-based drug abuse centers.

Rep. Robert C. Scott, Virginia Democrat, argued that the legislation would be an unconstitutional establishment of religion. Proponents, Democratic and Republican, said successful revitalization of many of these communities almost requires the church's involvement.

"[People] involved in alcohol and drug abuse treatment in these types of communities are not in it for the money," said Rep. James M. Talent, Missouri Republican. "They are involved for some personal reason and often it is spiritual."

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