'Urban enterprise zones' to move off back burner

Charlotte Street in the South Bronx is an urban desert. A few blades of crab grass poke their heads up out of the acres of flat, glass-sprinkled brick and mortar - the compressed rubble of what used to be decent, livable -middle-class housing.

In 1978, former President Carter stood here, promising that his new urban policy would result in the ''greening of the South Bronx.'' While some nearby housing was, in fact, rehabilitated, and a number of mini-parks were built, the Charlotte Street area has remained virtually the same.

Now President Reagan is poised to push forward his solution for the Charlotte Streets of America - ''urban enterprise zones.'' These zones will figure prominently in his State of the Union address, scheduled for Jan. 26.

Essentially, the administration's urban enterprise zone proposal, which is still in a state of flux, would offer businesses tax incentives for locating in slum-torn inner-city areas and hiring the jobless, low-income residents there. The plan, as described by informed sources, calls for setting up to 25 such ''zones'' a year for the next three years. It also calls for at least a temporary elimination of the capital gains tax for businesses choosing to locate in depressed urban areas. In addition, businesses will be able to take tax credits for low-income workers they hire.

If some of this sounds a little familiar, it's because the President's proposal has its roots in an enterprise zone bill submitted to Congress last year by Reps. Jack Kemp (R) and Robert Garcia (D), both of New York. President Reagan himself frequently voiced his support for the concepts contained in the ''Kemp-Garcia'' bill in his campaign speeches, but has said little about them since then.

With the flurry of other administration-sponsored legislation this past year, sources say the White House put the enterprise zone idea on a back burner. Then about four months ago, confronted by a recession and renewed urging from Messrs. Kemp and Garcia, President Reagan himself ordered the administration to examine the issue in earnest. Both the Treasury Department and the Housing and Urban Development Department drew up enterprise zone legislation, the HUD version being the bolder and more far-reaching.

The big question in the minds of many urban experts is whether the new approach will really make a difference, given other federal cutbacks and the alarming rise in joblessness. For one thing, while the President's strong public support for enterprise zones is imminent, the jobs that such zones may generate could literally be several years away, say many urban experts.

Maudine Cooper, vice-president of the National Urban League in Washington and an expert on the enterprise zone concept, says the adminstration's new, vigorous backing is welcome. But she adds that she wishes it had come much earlier so jobs could be created sooner.

She is also concerned that the administration views these zones as merely a kind of ''public relations'' substitute for more far-reaching job training and development programs, which she says are urgently needed. In addition, she remains unconvinced that the enterprise zone concept will bring about the needed slum rehabilitation and new jobs, even though five states now have passed enterprise zone legislation and several dozen proposals are awaiting action by lawmakers in other states.

But Kemp and other key supporters of enterprise zones stand fast by the idea. The National Federation of Independent Businessmen, which includes many minority businessmen, supports the zones too. Perhaps more importantly, at least as far as legislation is concerned, there is bipartisan congressional support.

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