WASHINGTON – Companion bills introduced in the House and Senate would allow state and local governments to issue up to $5 billion of private activity bonds to finance the repair or construction of public buildings under public-private partnership arrangements.
The “Public Buildings Renewal Act” was introduced in the House on Feb. 7 as H.R. 960 by Rep. Mike Kelly, R-Pa., and eight cosponsors, five of whom besides Kelly are members of the House Ways and Means Committee.
The measure in the Senate, which has not been assigned a number yet, is being introduced by Sens. Dean Heller, R-Nev., and Bill Nelson, D-Fla., both of whom sit on the Senate Finance Committee.
The bills they introduced last session were H.R. 5361 and S. 3177.
The legislation would create a new category of tax-exempt PABs that would allow states and localities to partner with private parties to construct or renovate qualified government buildings, which would be governmentally owned.
These could include public buildings, schools, state colleges or universities, public libraries, and courthouses, according to the bills’ text. They could also include government-owned hospital, health care, laboratory or research facilities and public safety facilities such as police stations or firehouses.
The bonds could not be issued to finance buildings or facilities for retail food and beverage services, private golf course or country clubs, or other sports or entertainment facilities, according to the text.
These kinds of projects cannot currently be financed with tax-exempt PABs because there is not a specific qualified PAB category for bonds for public buildings.
Jessica Giroux, Bond Dealers of America’s general counsel and managing director, said the bills, “fit the administration’s call for more infrastructure spending.”
“There has been a fair degree of interest and a few transactions done as P3s for what is called social infrastructure” such as courthouses and government office buildings, Giroux said. “The downside is that it’s hard to do these economically if you can’t use tax-exempt bonds. So this sort of thing would be a fix for that.”
Emily Brock, director of the Government Finance Officer’s Association’s federal liaison center, said the bills are in line with GFOA policy.
“The GFOA has a long-standing policy that encourages Congress and the Department of the Treasury to consider easing private activity restrictions on public use facilities,” she said. “We look forward to working with the bill sponsors to discuss how this concept can augment the financing toolkit for state and local governments, which also must include the full preservation of the municipal bond interest exemption.
Michael Decker, managing director at the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association and co-head of its muni division, said, “Private activity bonds can provide an efficient mechanism for financing the debt portion of infrastructure projects. It’s appropriate for governments who determine that public-private partnerships are the most efficient financing model to be able to tap the tax-exempt, private-activity bond market to finance the project. This principle should apply to public buildings, as Sens. Heller and Nelson and Congressman Kelly have proposed, and other infrastructure projects as well.”
Rep. Kelly said in a release on the bill pending in the House, “Our country’s public buildings are in a historic state of disrepair and in need of a bold solution. That’s where the Public Buildings Renewal Act can come to the rescue.”
Blumenauer added, “Congress has failed to display the political courage to adequately invest in infrastructure – from roads to light rail to schools and courthouses. Our nation is literally falling apart and falling behind. We need an ‘all of the above’ approach to infrastructure funding and simple fixes to lower investment barriers are steps in the right direction.”
The other House and Ways and Means Committee members co-sponsoring the bill in the House are: Reps. Carlose Curbelo, R-Fla., Lynn Jenkins, R-Kan., James Renacci, R-Ohio, and Ron Kind, D-Wis. Reps. Lee Zeldin, R-N.Y., Will Hurd, R-Texas, and Scott Perry, R-Pa., are also co-sponsors.