WASHINGTON -- Rep. Dan Rostenkowski, D-Ill., hit the nail on the head last week when he said it's time to drop the annual charade of extending the use of mortgage revenue bonds and small-issue industrial development bonds for a few months or a year at a time.
Instead, the chairman to sit down when they draft a tax bill next year and decide -- once and for all -- which of the dozen popular expiring tax breaks, or "extenders," should be made permanent and which should be allowed to die.
He also put Congress and lobbyists on notice that the committee "will examine each one and will vote on permanent extensions for each one, up or down, on the merits of each one."
Before the House and Senate voted overwhelmingly to extend the bond programs from their scheduled expiration on Dec. 31 through June 30, 1992, Mr. Rostenkowski said, "I intend this to be the last temporary extension of expiring tax provisions."
"Their on-again, off-again nature is bad for government and bad for the taxpayers who benefit from them," he told the House while adding that last-minute extensions "create needless instability in the economy."
Making a final decision on the "extenders" is an excellent plan and long overdue.
Last week's vote to extend the package oftax breaks marked the sixth time mortgage bonds have been temporarily spared since they were first targeted for extinction in 1980 and the fifth time manufacturing IDBs have been rescued since they were curbed in 1984.
It also marked the second time that both mortgage bonds, IDBs, and the other expiring tax provisions, including the low-income housing tax credit, have been extended for less than a full year because Congress did not have the funds to grant them a longer reprieve or a permanent lease on life.
And it is the third time in as many years that state agencies administering housing and economic development faced needless uncertainty whether the bond programs would even exist next year.
There is a risk some of the tax extenders, which have survived as a "take it or leave it" package for the last three years, could be eliminated when they are forced to stand on their own. That certainly could be the case for IDBs because just less than half the House and only 14 members of the Senate co-sponsored legislation this year to renew their use. But the risk is worth it.
Mortgage bonds, IDBs, and the low-income credit, which is often used in conjunction with tax-exempt bonds, are not the runaway programs they were in the early 1980s. They have all been curbed, capped, targeted, and are efficient programs that serve those with the greatest need.
It's time to let them live and thrive without a yearly threat of disruption or extinction.