MIAMI — Legislation authorizing a national infrastructure bank could see renewed momentum this month as the Obama administration begins to prepare its fiscal 2012 budget.
An almost-inevitable transportation extension bill is expected to provide a potential vehicle for new proposals. Yet market participants remain pessimistic that a bank will be created.
According to speakers and other market participants at The Bond Buyer’s 11th annual Transportation Finance and P3 Conference here, a national infrastructure bank probably will not come to fruition soon. But the administration has continued to push for the bank, with President Obama calling for Congress to create one in a speech prior to last week’s mid-term election.
One new proposal could allow lawmakers to create a bank that would draw on two popular financing tools, and could use $76 billion of federal investment to finance $125 billion of projects. It would be less burdensome on the budget than other proposals but would still require a large up-front investment from the federal government.
The proposal was drawn up by Mercator Advisors LLC and discussed at the conference by David Seltzer, co-founder and principal of the financial consulting firm.
It would incorporate a new kind of Build America Bond-style security for transportation. The new bond would provide a 100% direct-pay option tax credit from the federal government, mirroring the rate that is available under the qualified school construction bond program.
A total of $10 billion per year over five years would be allocated to state and local issuers who could sell the bonds for both public and public-private partnership projects.
The bank also would expand on the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act program that provides low-interest loans and credit assistance. It has been vastly oversubscribed as more transportation projects seek loans from its relatively small pot. The proposal would make up to $5 billion per year in TIFIA-style loans, or about five times the current level.
The proposal also would offer $200 million per year over five years for pre-construction development costs. Those advance funds would be repayable only if the project proceeded to construction.
They would be treated as grants for budgetary purposes. The total budgetary impact of the proposal would be $20 billion because of its structure, which would mostly consist of federal credit and bond-financing tools.
Because of its structure that would not provide grants but instead would offer federal credit and bond-financing tools, the bank would have a total budgetary impact of $20 billion.
The proposal is up against a Republican leadership in the House that has vowed to stop federal spending and seems poised to oppose any fresh initiative by the White House.
The concept of a national bank that would fund infrastructure, or just transportation, has been around since at least the mid-1990s.
Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., has sponsored legislation since then that would create a bank funded by issuing its own securities and be capable of financing projects in multiple sectors ranging from transportation to energy and water.
Other ideas and proposals for the bank have come from Obama, transportation and municipal finance experts, and current and former members of Congress.
There is already demand for transportation money in the forms that have been part of infrastructure bank proposals. The TIFIA program in March had received applications for more than $12.5 billion of new loans for projects that would cost $40.9 billion.
But according to Bill Daly, senior vice president for government relations at Bond Dealers of America, Congress is not likely to take up much new legislation this year.
One exception could be a continuing resolution to keep the federal government and its programs alive until appropriations bills can be voted on by the House and Senate and their new members.
Other market participants have speculated that Congress will also take up a short-term extension of highway funding before the current extension expires Dec. 31.