LOS ANGELES -- Oregon plans to allow a few exceptions to a year-long moratorium on new-money general obligation bond sales, a move that will permit $48 million of such issues to move forward between now and next spring.
But state Treasurer Anthony Meeker last week said the state's bond issuance will remain crimped until state leaders craft a response to a 1990 voter initiative that cut property taxes.
Mr. Meeker on Oct. 23 unveiled the second phase of his office's debt management plan in response to Measure 5, the voter-approved initiative that gradually imposes property tax limits over the next five years and requires the state to replace local property tax revenues lost by the public school system.
The first phase of Mr. Meeker's debt management plan included a moratorium on general obligation and certificate of participation sales until state leaders agree on a strategy for addressing the funding challenges created by Measure 5.
Last week, however, Mr. Meeker released a list of sanctioned financing projects that can move forward, based on an assessment of critical needs conducted by the state treasury.
The approved new-money GO issues had to meet certain criteria, said Michael Ryan, an assistant state treasurer.
For example, priority was given to projects with outstanding contractual or financing agreements that had to be honored. The state also favored projects that could face federal sanctions or fines if they failed to move forward, Mr. Ryan said.
The approved projects include $20 million of GOs for the Department of Environmental Quality to help fund the Mid-Multnomah County Sewerage Project, and $19 million of GO bonds for the Department of Higher Education to finance improvements at the Oregon Health Sciences University. Oregon also plans a $9 million GO issue for the Housing and Community services Department to avoid federal penalties at Fairview Hospital.
Besides the new-money GOs, Oregon also is proceeding with debt refinancings or restructurings that lower interest rate costs. About $65 million of refinancings are planned between now and the spring, including a $30.99 million advance refunding deal this week on behalf of the State Board of Higher Education.
The $48 million of new-money GOs are just a small portion of $800 million of new GO debt authorized by the Oregon Legislative Assembly for the 1991 to 1993 biennium, which began July 1.
Most of that total remains under the moratorium because "we will continue to strictly control the issuance of any new general obligation debt until much more is known about Oregon's financial future under Measure 5," Mr. Meeker said in a statement.
He noted that the measure's long-term impacts place "tremendous pressure on Oregon's general fund revenues," adding that rating agency officials have responded positively to his moratorium and debt management plan.
Oregon GO bonds are rated Aa by Moody's Investors Service; AA-minus by Standard & Poor's Corp., and AA by Fitch Investors Service.
From 1993 to 1997, Measure 5 is expected to force the state to replace more than $4 billion of local school funds lost through property tax cutbacks. Gov. Barbara Roberts is conducting a "conversation with Oregonians" program to receive input from citizens on potential tax solutions to replace the lost funds.
Mr. Meeker said the third phase of his office's debt management plan hinges on the outcome of a special legislative session expected to be held in 1992. Gov. Roberts has expressed interest in placing a tax overhaul package on the ballot in late 1992 if legislators can agree on a strategy for responding to Measure 5.