WASHINGTON - History, it is said, often repeats itself.
Although congressional tax leaders have kept the lid on the use of so-called rifle shots for the last few years, the practice of approving amendments that benefit members' pet bond-financed projects is beginning to emerge again.
During the maneuvering over the massive tax bills of 1984 and 1986, hundreds of rifle shot provisions were approved allowing specific bond issues to escape new tax law curbs as a way to make the overall legislation more palatable to members.
However, both the Ways and Means and senate Finance committees have taken pains over the last few years to keep breaks for specific projects out of tax legislation.
That policy was spelled out in 1989 by Sen. Lloyd Bentsen, D-Tex., the chairman of the finance committee, when he announced that any future transition rules would apply to all affected taxpayers and projects, not just one or a few, and the beneficiaries would be publicly identified.
While the policy thwarted passage of new rifle shots for the last three years, a few have started to trickle through the House and Senate tax committees.
The recent ones include:
* A stand-alone bill, proposed by Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., and approved by the House, that would allow New York City to issue tax-exempt bonds to expand the offices of the United Nations.
* An amendment added to the Senate energy bill at the behest of Sen. Bob Packwood, R-Ore., that would make it easier for the Mid-Columbia River Power Project to use bonds to comply with federal environmental bonds.
* A stand-alone bill passed by the House and pushed by Rep. Bruce F. Vento, D-Minn., that would exempt the St. Paul Port Authority from simultaneous issuance rules that prevent it from refunding various bond issues that are in danger of going into default.
* A separate House-passed measure pushed by Rep. J.J. Pickle, D- Tex., that would raise the maximum loan allowed under the Texas Veterans Land Bond Program to $40,000 from $20,000.
Will this trickle of new rifle shots turn into a flood?
Most municipal bond lobbyists don't think so. But they say it would be impossible to put together a package of tax measures during an election year without satisfying the key members whose support is needed to muster the votes needed to get the overall legislation passed.
The policy of clamping down on rifle has been of major benefit to the municipal market because tax committee members have focused more on improving long-term policy for all tax-exempt bonds and less on granting personal favors to members with bond-financed projects in their districts.
The municipal market will be far better off if rifle shots are kept to a minimum and the new policy is maintained.