John Cross ready for his next chapter after long public service career
John Cross’s recent decision to leave his post as the Treasury Department's top municipal finance tax attorney leaves a void in the public finance sector.
Cross has played an influential role in writing regulations and industry guidance to help buoy the industry during difficult times over the last three decades.
His first big project at the IRS in 1990 was helping to rewrite the 1989 temporary arbitrage rules for tax exempt bonds that were under severe criticism for being too complicated during the high interest rate environment of the time.
After a 12-year hiatus from government service spent at the Washington office of Hawkins Delafield & Wood from 1994 through 2006, Cross began working at Treasury.
At Treasury he was involved in drafting the 2009 economic stimulus legislation that created several types of new direct pay bonds that included the popular Build America Bonds.
He left Treasury in 2012 to become the first person to head the independent Office of Municipal Securities at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission after it was created under the Dodd-Frank Act.
His SEC tenure was marked by the creation of a new municipal advisor registration program in 2013 that was mandated under Dodd-Frank.
He returned to his former position in Treasury’s Office of Tax Policy after two years for a second stint to fill an opening after his successor, Vicky Tsilas, left. Tsilas had returned to the Ballard Spahr law firm following the death of Rick Ballard.
Industry insiders say Cross, 63, has been a one-of-a-kind public servant with valuable insights from his combination of experience in the private and public sectors.
National Association of Bond Lawyers President Richard Moore, a tax partner at Orrick, describes Coss as “a titan in the municipal finance world.”
“The industry will miss his presence at Treasury but look forward to seeing whatever he chooses as his next adventure,” Moore said.
“I’m very happy for him to turn a page in his career and start a new chapter,” said former NABL President Tony Martini, a partner and head of the public finance tax practice at Hinckley Allen in Boston.
“We knew his heart was in the right place,” Martini said, referring to Cross’s role in writing new regulations or guidance. “We were also confident that he would bear in mind the policy that tax-exempt financing is on the books to benefit state and local governments in building their capital facilities.”
Cross and his wife Meredith last week moved from the Washington, D.C. area to a house in Connecticut to be near their son, daughter-in-law and infant grandson.
Meredith Cross, a former director of the Division of Corporate Finance at the SEC, will continue working as a partner at WilmerHale law firm in Manhattan after working at their Washington office for the last several years. The couple also have a new apartment in lower Manhattan located in Battery Park.
Cross told The Bond Buyer Friday he’s weighing his options.
“I haven’t decided on my next chapter,” he said. “I’m keenly interested in public finance and will explore how best to continue doing something in public finance.”
“I had a great experience at a high level at Treasury, the SEC and IRS in public finance which is a very specialized area,” he said.
Muni industry insiders say they hope he continues to participate in the public finance sector.
“He will be greatly missed in Washington, but I hope he will stay in the muni game in some fashion,” said Chuck Samuels of Mintz Levin, who represents the National Association of Health and Educational Facilities Finance Authorities.
Cross “has been universally recognized as a brilliant lawyer and fair regulator for both tax matters and securities law issues," said Howard Zucker, a managing partner at Hawkins Delafield & Wood.
Zucker, who served as the presenter when Cross received the NABL Bernard Friel Medal in 2016, said during his speech at that time that Cross has made “a greater positive contribution to the municipal bond market than any individual" over the last 25 years.
Earlier this year Cross also received a lifetime achievement award from the Municipal Forum of New York.
Before moving to Washington in 1990, Cross was an associate at the law firm now called Kutak Rock LLP in Atlanta and later was an associate, then partner, at Smith, Gambrell & Russell, also in Atlanta.
Cross earned a bachelor's degree from Brown University in 1978, a law degree from Vanderbilt University School of Law in 1981, where he was a member of the Vanderbilt Law Review, and an L.L.M. in taxation from Georgetown University Law Center in 1988.
Cross wryly noted in an interview Friday that he met his wife in the beer line during student orientation at Vanderbilt Law School.