WASHINGTON — The Joint Tax Committee has released revenue estimates for Obama administration budget proposals that would extend most of the stimulus law’s municipal bond provisions — including the higher qualified small-issuer limit for bank-qualified bonds — through the end of calendar year 2011.
The committee’s estimates show the bond provisions would cost a total of nearly $20 billion over the next 10 years, including $8.4 billion for the Build America Bond program.
They also provide the first indication the administration may seek to extend many of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act provisions for an additional year. Most of the ARRA provisions are only in effect for bonds issued in 2009 and 2010, but municipal market groups have lobbied for their extension.
The JTC estimates are significant because under recently imposed pay-as-you-go budgeting rules, lawmakers must come up with revenue raisers to offset costs, such as for extensions.
The administration last month proposed that BABs become a permanent fixture of the muni market with a lower, 28% subsidy rate, which it claimed would make the program “approximately revenue-neutral in comparison to the federal tax cost from traditional tax-exempt bonds.”
The White House also proposed expanding BABs so that state and local governments could issue them for refundings and working capital purposes, and 501(c)(3) charitable organizations could sell them.
The administration had estimated in its February budget documents that modifying and making permanent the program would add $24 million to the federal deficit over the next 10 years, and that the current program would cost an average of roughly $750 million a year through 2015.
But in a 14-page document released Monday, the JTC estimated that expanding and making the BAB program permanent would cost a total of almost $2 billion through 2015 and $8.4 billion through 2020.
Michael Decker, managing director and co-head of the muni division of the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association, said lawmakers should not focus exclusively the price tag when weighing the future of the BAB program.
“While Congress will certainly consider the score ... I think the factors that matter more are the effectiveness and efficiency of the program and how it’s helped members of Congress’ constituent issuers,” he said.
In addition to setting the price tag for a permanent BAB program, the JTC estimates show costs for bond provisions that could be extended through the end of 2011 instead of expiring at the end of the year.
When the administration unveiled its budget request, the Treasury Department stated in its “green book,” which explains the tax proposals, that it wanted to extend a number of expiring provisions through the end of 2011. The document listed several examples of the provisions, including tax incentives for empowerment zones and renewal communities, but did not cite any bond programs. The JTC’s document appears to provide a detailed list of the provisions the administration would like to extend further.
Treasury officials could not be reached for comment but sources said the tax committee only estimates revenue impacts when asked to do so. The JTC said a one-year extension of a pair of ARRA provisions that encourage banks to invest in tax-exempt debt would cost $2.96 billion over 10 years.
The first provision increases to $30 million from $10 million the small-issuer limit for bank-qualified bonds, and allows the limit to be applied to individual borrowers participating in conduit deals, rather than the conduit issuer. The second modifies the 2% de minimis rule for financial institutions to include banks. Under that provision, financial institutions that invest in tax-exempt bonds can deduct 80% of the cost of buying and carrying tax-exempt bonds to the extent that their tax-exempt holdings do not exceed 2% of their assets.
Several muni market groups, including the National Association of Bond Lawyers and the National Association of Health and Educational Facilities Finance Authorities, have lobbied Congress to extend the bank provisions. While lawmakers are reportedly receptive, none have introduced such legislation.
“I suspect that most of the purported revenue loss relates more to the 2% rule than the change in the exemptions from $10-to-30 million and applying the exemption at the borrower level,” said Charles Samuels, a lawyer with Mintz Levin Cohn Ferris Glovsky & Popeo PC and counsel to the NAHEFFA. “Of course, there is no accounting in these calculations of the tremendous stimulative and job-creation and maintenance effects of this very successful provision.”
Another stimulus provision exempting new issues of tax-exempt bonds from the alternative minimum tax would cost $224 million over 10 years, according to JTC.
The committee estimated it would cost $4 billion over 10 years to extend qualified school construction bonds for another year, and $585 million for a one-year extension of qualified zone academy bonds.
Similar extensions of recovery zone economic development and exempt facility bonds — which are meant to spur development in economically distressed areas — would come with a $1.43 billion price tag.
The JTC also scored the cost of extending another ARRA provision allowing industrial development bonds to be issued to finance facilities that manufacture intangible property at $167 million over 10 years.
Extending the Federal Home Loan Banks’ ability to guarantee tax-exempt debt, which was authorized in a housing-relief law enacted in the summer of 2008, would cost $148 million over 10 years, the JTC found. And allowing qualified mortgage bonds to be sold to refinance subprime loans would cost $380 million over the same period.
The committee also estimated the costs of one-year extensions of three provisions that are currently part of an “extenders” package under consideration in Congress. It projected costs of $38 million for relaxed mortgage-revenue bond limitations for federal disaster areas, $118 million for New York City’s Liberty Zone bond program and $539 million for tax incentives for empowerment zones. The Senate is expected to vote on that package as soon as today.
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