WASHINGTON — Sen. Ron Wyden’s plans for transportation financing legislation are now focused on tax-credit bonds instead of a scaled-down version of Build America Bonds.
The Oregon Democrat plans to introduce a bill that would authorize an independent transportation finance corporation, created through other legislation, that would issue up to $50 billion of tax-credit bonds over six years to finance projects in states, sources said Wednesday.
The corporation will be made up of representatives of state infrastructure banks and projects in each state will receive at least 1% of the $50 billion. The cost to the federal government for the program would be $12 billion over 10 years, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation.
Wyden’s forthcoming tax-credit bond proposal is part of a larger transportation financing package being considered in the Senate. The package also would include an expansion of the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act loan program, and a legislative proposal by Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., to create an infrastructure financing bank.
Federal lawmakers, speaking at a press conference on Wednesday, called for an expansion to the TIFIA loan program, a popular financing tool for transportation projects that has been oversubscribed.
Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., chairwoman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, noted that the program dates back to 1998 and needs to be expanded. A dollar amount for the increase is still being worked out, she said.
TIFIA has grown more popular as Treasury rates offer more savings opportunities to project managers than financing in the municipal bond market, especially for lower-rated credits. The program was oversubscribed in fiscal 2010 and is again in 2011.
Boxer was joined at the press conference by House Transportation Committee chairman John Mica, R-Fla., who also declined to set a dollar amount for an expanded TIFIA program, but said it has proved to be a successful financing mechanism. Mica has said he is working on a six-year transportation reauthorization bill he hopes to introduce later this year.
The federal lawmakers were flanked by Antonio Villaraigosa, the mayor of Los Angeles, which is using a TIFIA loan as part of the financing package for the city’s Crenshaw/LAX Transit Corridor Project, an 8.5 mile rail line.
Villaraigosa said the program could be increased by three to 10 times its current $122 million annual funding level.
The U.S. Department of Transportation approved or funded four projects in fiscal 2010 with TIFIA loans. For fiscal 2011, 34 projects submitted letters of interest for the loans, requesting $14 billion.