DALLAS -- Gov Roy Romer has signed a package of incentives, including the proposed use of $115 million of certificates of participation, passed by the Colorado Legislature to lure United Airlines into locating a $1 billion maintenance base at the new Denver International Airport.
Before any securities are sold, several issues must be resolved: The Colorado Supreme Court must rule whether the incentives are constitutional; United must decide if it will locate the facility in Denver; and the private sector must provide pledges to secure debt service on the certificates.
"We need to hear from the court, then we need a final decision from United," said Cindy Parmenter, spokeswoman for the governor. "It's like dominoes falling."
On Friday, Gov. Romer signed legislation passed last month in a special session called to draft a package of incentives that would entice United to locate its new maintenance facility and reservations center in Denver.
The state incentives had earlier been viewed as a critical step in getting United to commit to using the $2.3 billion Denver International Airport that is now under construction. The city last month approved its own $175 million package of incentives for the airline, which now says it plans to occupy 45 gates on Concourse B when the airport opens in 1994.
The total state package is valued at $125 million, but the richest part calls for the Colorado Housing and Finance Authority to sell $115 million of certificates of participation backed by a state-levied aviation fuel tax.
Because current projections show a deficit between the tax and anticipated debt service, Gov. Romer and others have lobbied the private sector in Denver for long-range commitments to make up the anticipated shortfall.
The Greater Denver Chamber of Commerce, a leading booster for locating the United facility in Denver, has been heading the drive for an estimated $2 million in annual private commitments over the life of the bonds.
The aviation fuel tax has averaged up to $9 million a year since it was implemented in 1988. But an official of the housing and finance authority last month estimated that the tax would fund an issue of $90 million to $105 million of certificates.
Investment bankers in Denver have said that if the private pledges cannot be obtained, the certificates could be structured over a longer term with projections that increased fuel use in later years would generate more revenues than the surcharge currently does.
"Even though they [the state] are working with the idea of having private money as part of the security pledge, I would think their real goal is to get up-front cash," one banker said. "Even if you got those kinds of commitments, that kind of security pledge may be hard to sell to investors, even if you did a two-tiered structure."
But Dick Fleming, president of the Greater Denver Chamber of Commerce, said yesterday that $1.7 million of the $2 million targeted for a standby reserve fund had been made by private companies and local governments in the past three weeks.
He said bond lawyers and investment bankers continue to debate how the certificates would be structured to use the pledges in the $115 million issue.
"I would see it [the pledges] as one more positive indicator," Mr. Fleming said. "We have seen a consistently strong support for this project."
Ms. Parmenter said the money would be used to help United offset the cost of constructing its maintenance facility, which may be built at the new Denver International Airport.
However, even if the necessary pledges for debt service are obtained, the issue still hinges on a final decision by the state's supreme court and United.
The Chicago-based airline expects to make a decision by late summer on where it will locate its maintenance facility; 10 cities are vying for the facility and its estimated 5,000 jobs.
"We've not a made a decision yet, but the focus has been on Denver for several weeks," said Joe Hopkins, a spokesman for United.
But the most significant obstacles remaining is a ruling from the state supreme court, which could issue a decision as early as today.
Critics of the incentives say they violate the constitutional ban on special legislation that would benefit a single enterprise, such as United Airlines. Supporters of the plan say the same incentives are available to any business that meets the job-creation and other requirements outlines in the legislation.