President Barack Obama at a White House event Thursday identified five new "Promise Zones" that he said would benefit from a program of tax incentives and government grants, a year after he unveiled the plan in his 2013 State of the Union address.
“We've got to keep our economy growing,” the president said. “We've got to make sure everybody is sharing in that growth. We've got to keep creating jobs. Then we've got to make sure wages and benefits are such that families can rebuild a little security.”
The proposal unique in that they’re an example of administrative action Obama can take without Congress.
“We've got to make sure this recovery, which is real, leaves nobody behind,” the president said. “That's going to be my focus throughout the year. This is going to be a year of action. That's what the American people expect. They are ready and willing to pitch in and help.”
The “Promise Zones” announced Thursday will be located in San Antonio, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, southeastern Kentucky and the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma.
Here's how the White House website describes the project:
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 president’s speech, which focused mainly on economic opportunities, went largely unnoticed as pundits on both the left and the right side of aisle continued to obsess Thursday over Gov. Chris Christie’s (R-N.J.) “bridgegate” scandal.
Among those attending the White House event Thursday were Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), both frequent critics of Obama economic policies.
McConnell says he supports the "Promise Zone" designation for eight economically hard hit counties in his state, though he said the hardship endured in that coal region of the state is partly a result of the Obama administration's energy policies.
"There’s no doubt that Eastern Kentucky is a region that has suffered enormous hardship in recent years -- much of it, unfortunately, related to the very same administration’s ‘war’ on coal families," McConnell said, adding that his and Paul’s "Economic Freedom Zone" proposal would be a better approach.
"The Republican approach is to learn from past mistakes," McConnell said. "It's about turning the left's good intentions into policies that can actually get the job done."
Paul said he appreciated the administration's efforts on behalf of struggling Kentucky communities. But he said his and McConnell's proposal would apply more broadly and lower taxes dramatically.
"We don't pick winners and losers," Paul said.
The “Promise Zones” announced Thursday represent five of 20 that the Obama administration plans to reveal over the next three years.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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