WASHINGTON - Rep. J.J. Pickle's upcoming departure from Con- gress leaves open a leadership post on the House Ways and Mean Committee that bond proponents hope may be filled by a strong supporter of public finance, lobbyists said this week.
The 80-year-old Texas Democrat, third in seniority on the Ways and Means panel, announced last month that he will not seek re-election in 1994. During his 15 terms in Congress, Pickle became well known as a strong advocate for curbing tax-exempt bonds, especially during the development of the Tax Reform Act of 1986.
"Pickle win be remembered for his role in the significant changes Congress wrought in the 1980s" in the municipal area, said John T. McEvoy, the executive director of the National Council of State Housing Agencies.
"Pickle was particularly interested in curbing the use of municipal bonds for private uses, a major thrust of many of the provisions included in the Tax Reform Act of 1986.
"I think Pickle has been one who has forced bond issuers to look carefully at the purposes for which bonds are issued," said a lobbyist who requested anonymity.
Pickle's decision not to run again means another new member of Congress to bring to our side, and hopefully one who has come out of state and local government," said Catherine L. Spain, the director of the Government Finance Officers Association's federal liaison center.
When Pickle leaves at the end of 1994 he will be vacate the chairmanship of the Ways and Means subcommittee tee on oversight, which over the years has tackled a broad range of issues, including public finance.
Currently, there are six Ways and Means subcommittees. In addition to Pickle, Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y.; Rep. Sam Gibbons, D-Fla.; Rep. Andrew Jacobs, D-Ind.; Rep. Fortney Stark, D-Calif.; and Rep. Harold Ford, D-Tenn., are all subcommittee chairmen, because they are the most senior members of the committee.
After that group, the next most senior member of the committee is Rep. Robert T. Matsui, D-Calif., who would presumably replace Pickle as chair of the oversight subcommittee. Matsui is well known in the bond community for having introduced legislation that would lift the $150 million limit on the amount of bonds that individual 50 1 (c)(3) organizations other than hospitals may have outstanding at one time.
Matsui "has always been a strong supporter of municipal bonds," said Micah S. Green, the executive vice president of the Public Securities Association.
Just behind Matsui in seniority are a number of other strong supporters of tax-exempt finance. If other senior committee members begin to leave over the next few years, that next group take over leading roles on the panel, some lobbyists said.
"Looking to the future, you see a tier of people coming up through the Ways and Means Committee who are now just beginning to rise to the level of seniority where you get subcommittee chairs," said a lobbyist for a large city.
That second "tier" includes Rep. Barbara B. Kennelly, D-Conn.; Rep. William J. Coyne, D-Pa.; and Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, D-Md. "Those members have pretty consistently been concerned about the needs of issuers," the lobbyist said.
Although Pickle has been tough on the public finance community over the years, his departure is not a completely welcome development, some lobbyists said.
"We kind of won him over to being moderately positive" about tax-exempt finance, said Milton Wells, the director of federal relations for the National Association of State Treasurers.
Pickle will also be remembered for helping to reshape the Government Securities Act, Green said. The reauthorization of that statute was signed into law by President Clinton this week.
As chairman of the oversight subcommittee, Pickle "was a huge defender of preserving the liquidity of the Treasury bond market to ensure the Government Securities Act didn't in any way, shape, or form adversely affect ability of the Treasury to access the most liquid market in the world," Green said.