The Arkansas Development Finance Authoirty could soon market a succession of tax-exempt bond issues to benefit hospitals in other states under a controversial funding program that has been devised by a national hospital association and First Chicago Capital Markets Inc.
The first deal under the program, expected to be between $30 million and $50 million, could be sold by the end of the year, sources familiar with the deal said.
The hospital association, the San Diego-based American Healthcare Systems, plans to continue such financings with about two or three deals a year to raise about $200 million annually, said William J. Nydam, senior vice president and chief financial officer of American Healthcare. The average hospital in the system would save $75,000 on a $20 million borrowing, he said.
Economies of scale from pool financing would account for much of the saving, according to Thomas P. Fischer, a vice president in First Chicago's public finance department, and Mr. Nydam. They noted that multistate systems would be able to borrow for all their facilities in one shot -- as opposed to selling bonds through authorities in different states. Hospitals also would gain relief from the Internal Revenue Service's proposed reimbursement rules.
But although the bonding proposal offers lower borrowing costs, some municipal market professionals have reservations about the transactions.
Richard A. Ciccarone, senior vice president and manager of fixed-income research at Kemper Securities Group in Chicago, said the multistate financing mechanism would make hospitals less accountable to their communities.
"To use a conduct so far removed from the obligated party is a bad precedent," Mr. Cicarrone said. "We have an accountability problem when we deal with condults anyway."
John R. Regier, a bond lawyer at Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky & Popeo in Boston, said the transaction could call for a federally authorized interstate agreement, such as the one backing the bond-issuing Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
"The federal Constitution says that two states can't enter into an agreement without some sort of federal consent," Mr. Regier said, citing Article I, Section 10 of the United States Constitution.
Mr. Regier added that he had never considered such a question because most state authorities are prohibited by their enabling statutes from financing projects outside state lines.
Arkansas' development finance authority, however, is not prohibited and is perhaps the only financing conduit in the nation that could do the job, according to Mr. Fischer of First Chicago.
"The ADFA has the statutory approval to enter into a program like this," Mr. Fischer said. "To our knowledge, no other authority has the ability." The authority has already sold bonds for multistate housing developments, he said.
Robert J. Nash, executive director of the development finance authority, did not return telephone calls yesterday.
American Healthcare Systems, the San Diego-based hospital association, would make the proceeds of the multistate pool financings available as tax-free loans to its members and affiliates, which own 1,086 hospitals.
According to a document the association distributed to its members, the multistate financing arrangement would simplify borrowing for hospital systems because it "avoids the variations in financing formats (e.g. bond covenants, security structures) existing from state-to-state."
Officials at state hospital finance agencies also say they are not too pleased by the proposed arrangement.
Neil P. Moss, executive director of the Idaho Health Facilities Authority, in a letter dated Nov. 4, urged Gov. Bill Clinton of Arkansas to oppose the development finance authority's participation in the financing. Gov. Clinton appoints the executive director of the authority, as well as its board members, a spokesman said.
Mr. Moss, who served with Gov. Clinton on the commission on public finance convened by Rep. Beryl Anthony, D-Ark., said the transaction bothers him on several counts, including the possibility that it will permit hospitals to borrow tax-exempt under the regulations of Arkansas rather than their own states.
"The various issuing authorities in each state are established by the laws of that state," Mr. Moss said in his letter. "And their various rules, regulations, and directives are established for the benefit and protection of the citizens of each state, including the ability to provide health care and issue bonds to finance health care."
In response, Mr. Fischer siad the hospital association will make the funds available to its member and affiliated hospitals only on the condition that they comply with their local laws.
"EAch and every participant will abide by the laws, rules, and regulations of their states and jurisdictions, or they won't be allowed to participate in the program," he said. "Each participants has its local counsel involved in the program to assure that the laws, rules, and regulations of their state or jurisdiction are completely compiled with."
Mr. Moss's letter, which was also sent to Rep. Anthony, warned that the proposed national tax-exempt pool could "undermine some of the progress" made by the Anthony commission.
Robert A. Fuller, a managing director at Standard & Poor's Corp., said the existence of multistate pools could help ease the burden on hospitals of tightened federal restrictions on the use of tax-exempt securities.
The Internal Revenue Service has proposed eliminating hospitals' ability to issue tax-exempt bonds as reimbursement for projects built or equipment purchased more than one year prior to the date of the issue.
Mr. Fuller said that if multistate pool proceeds were available, the money could be used as reimbursement in lieu of a separate bond deal by the hospital.