Republicans push to end stadium muni bond sales

Posted: November 3, 2017 at 2:03 a.m.

Congressional Republicans proposed barring the sale of municipal bonds for professional sports stadiums and privately run infrastructure projects such as toll roads and airports, a step that's at odds with President Donald Trump's push to increase funding for public works.

The tax-cutting bill released Thursday would also eliminate advanced refundings of debt issues, a popular refinancing technique with state and local governments, as well as bonds backed by federal tax credits. If enacted, the proposals would cut the amount of municipal debt sold each year by billions of dollars and potentially increase demand for the bonds.

"If you reduce the supply of municipal securities that would make them generally more valuable," said Rob Amodeo, head of municipal debt for Western Asset Management. "But if you look at the idea that munis are going to act as a cornerstone for financing U.S. infrastructure, some of the provisions in this tax plan may challenge that a bit."

The rollback to so-called private-activity bonds would increase costs for companies that finance public works by borrowing billions each year in the municipal securities market, where interest rates are lower. Ending the program would would increase revenue by about $39 billion through 2027, according to Congressional estimates.

State and local governments sold $428 billion of debt last year. About $20 billion were private activity bonds, according to the Council of Development Finance Agencies. Many bonds are also sold each year for advanced refundings, which allow governments to refinance debt before it can be repurchased from investors.

The proposal shows how the Republican drive to lower taxes could come into conflict with a pillar of Trump's agenda. His administration in May promised $1 trillion to rebuild crumbling roads, bridges and airports, in part by relying on investment by businesses.

The push to roll back federal support for professional sports teams and billionaire owners may be less contentious, with the subsidies drawing criticism from both sides of the political spectrum. A Brookings Institution report in 2016 found that tax-exempt financing of professional sports stadiums has cost the federal government $3.7 billion in revenue since 2000.

Municipal bond prices were little changed after the release of the tax plan, with many analysts viewing it as a starting point that's likely to be heavily revised as it works its way through Congress.

The push to roll back sales of municipal bonds is likely to draw opposition from states, cities and securities firms, which for years have lobbied to prevent their ability to issue tax-exempt debt from being curtailed. Mike Nicholas, the chief executive officer of the Bond Dealers of America, an industry lobbying group, said the Republican proposal would increase costs for local governments and reduce funding for public works.

"Any alteration to the tax-exemption would significantly increase costs and lead to decreased infrastructure investment in communities where it is needed most," he said in a statement.

Business on 11/03/2017