I don’t often comment on politics because I don’t possess enough knowledge to do so. I don’t closely follow a lot of what goes on in the White House. I can’t tell you what Congress is currently arguing about. But when a news report surprises me so much that I literally spit out part of my coffee, well…I feel compelled to at least attempt to explain my reaction. I did promise Gary that I would calm down a bit before I responded, so I spent a day thinking and researching. I still don’t fully understand all of this and I’m sure it will be years before we see the results of it. I’m sure too, that some of my analysis may be flawed because of a lack of facts. Much of what goes on in government is done “behind closed doors” and we as citizens are not privileged to open those doors.
So, here is the plan…
This week, 50 years after President Johnson declared his “war on poverty”, President Obama announced the designation of five “Promise Zones” where the federal government will “work with local communities and businesses to create jobs, increase economic security, expand educational opportunities, increase access to quality, affordable housing and improve public safety”. There will eventually be 20 Promise Zones, but the first five are specific neighborhoods of San Antonio, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, plus Southeastern Kentucky, and the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma.The first announcement that I heard was that the selections were “impoverished communities”. That’s what surprised me. That’s what choked me up. The Choctaw Nation qualified as an “impoverished community”? Further reading revealed that the word community was probably just a mistaken label used by the media. Here is the official White House version:
“These areas – urban, rural, and tribal – have all committed, in partnership with local business and community leaders, to use existing resources on proven strategies, and make new investments that reward hard work. They have developed strong plans to create jobs, provide quality, affordable housing and expand educational opportunity, which we’ll help them execute with access to on-the-ground federal partners, resources, and grant preferences. Each of these designees has a proven track record of working collaboratively; their officials work as a team with business, faith-based and non-profit organizations; and with the public to ensure that opportunity becomes real for every member of their communities.”
The Choctaw Nation is “impoverished”? This is from their official website: “Choctaw Nation businesses generate hundreds of millions of dollars annually and more than 6,000 jobs for tribal and non-tribal Oklahomans. In addition to the tribe’s seven casinos, the Nation has a manufacturing business, a management services company, 13 travel plazas, 12 smoke shops, a printing company and a document archiving company. Proceeds from all the tribe’s businesses provide the revenue stream to support not only the programs that assist tribal members, including, health care, education, housing, senior care and other social services, but enable the tribe to support scores of community programs and charities.”
Each zone has its own problems and plans to eliminate or at least improve them. From the Promise Zone Initiative site:
The Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma’s key strategies include:
- Improving skills for tomorrow’s jobs, through workforce training for skilled trades and professionals and more rigorous summer and after-school programs.
- Leveraging its role as the largest employer in southeastern Oklahoma to create a strong base for economic revitalization by working with partners, like Oklahoma State University, Eastern Oklahoma State College, and the Kiamichi Technology Center to improve workforce training for skilled trades and professionals, with a focus on providing nationally-recognized STEM certifications.
- Investing in infrastructure that lays the foundation for economic growth, including water and sewer infrastructure; these infrastructure challenges have been identified as impediments to investment in an area with otherwise strong growth potential.
- Improving educational outcomes by working across 85 school districts throughout the region to share data for continuous improvement, and bolster early literacy and parent support programs.
- Pursuing economic diversification by utilizing natural, historic, and cultural resources to support growth, including evaluation of market capacity for local farmers’ markets, as well as implementation of technology-enhanced “traditional” farming and ranching, and large-scale greenhouses and specialized training in business plan development, marketing, and financing to support the development of women-owned businesses in the Promise Zone.
Here is the problem…
Although some news reports hinted at millions of dollars that will be available for these areas, it turns out that most of that is NOT money tied to any new program, but rather “aid in cutting through red tape to get access to existing resources.” Even getting to be chosen a promise zone was based on applications and in order to qualify the applicants had to already be part of three specific programs. The red tape help will include extra points and some tax incentives.
The Choctaw Nation already has a few tax incentives:
1. U.S. income taxation of Indian tribes
No specific Code provision governs the U.S. income tax liability of Indian tribes.
However, the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) has long taken the position that Indian tribes and
wholly owned tribal corporations chartered under Federal law or the Oklahoma Indian Welfare
Act are not taxable entities for U.S. income tax purposes and are immune from U.S. income
taxes, regardless of whether the activities that produced the income are commercial or
non-commercial in nature or are conducted on or off the tribe’s reservation.
2. Federal tax treatment of income from gaming operations
As is discussed above, Indian tribes and wholly owned tribal corporations chartered
under Federal law generally are not subject to income tax. Therefore, gaming income of such
tribes or tribal corporations generally is not taxable.
Each area has its own plans for eliminating poverty, but many of these plans and programs are the same ones they have been promoting in one form or another for decades! From HUD: “This approach includes working with local leadership, and bringing to bear the resources of a number of the President’s signature revitalization initiatives from the Department of Education, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Department of Justice, and the Department of Agriculture to ensure that federal programs and resources support the efforts to turn around 20 of the highest poverty urban, rural and tribal communities across the country.” So what were these departments doing before the Promise Zones were created?
Other sites indicate that some of this still requires the agreement of Republicans and further legislation. Some Native American writers point out that other tribal areas, such as the Navaho Reservation, are much needier than the Choctaw Nation. Some might argue that the nation already has too much power and control of our local politics.
I’m sure we will hear more about this in the coming year. I’m sure that no matter what happens it will be interesting to observe the impact on Durant and the surrounding communities.
Our promise from the Choctaw Nation is this:
The Choctaw Nation has worked to unite government officials, local leaders, and economic development groups across southeast Oklahoma to serve on a committee that will work together through the Promise Zones initiative to create a long-term vision and guidance plan that will best meet the needs of our communities.