WASHINGTON -- It's taken all year, but municipal bond proponents are hoping they finally have an answer to one of the most vexing questions facing them when the 103rd Congress began last January.

The question was, who in Congress was going to follow in the footsteps of Beryl Anthony? The former Arkansas congressman, widely known as the top advocate of municipal finance on the House Ways and Means Committee lost his reelection bid in 1992.

The most obvious answer, according to many Capital Hill watchers, now seems to be Rep. William J. Coyne. D-Pa. Last week Coyne, also a Ways and Means member, introduced a bill that would case a wide variety of bond curbs, including the arbitrage rebate requirement, the limit on bank deductibility, and the private-activity volume cap.

Although the introduction of Coyne's bill didn't come until the waning hours of the congressional session, along the way. there were a few hints that Coyne would try to step into Anthony's shoes.

For one, Coyne was the chief sponsor, this year and last, of legislation to make permanent the tax exemption for small-issue industrial development bonds. Also, in February, Coyne sent a letter to President Clinton urging him to offer proposals to ease curbs on tax-exempt bonds and to avoid proposals that would hamper bond issuance or demand. The letter was signed by 13 of the 24 Democrats on the Ways and Means Committee.

Coyne is not, however, the only Anthony-like member on Ways and Means. Long before it became apparent that Coyne wanted to broaden his interest beyond small-issue IDBs, Rep. Benjamin Cardin, D-Md., was speaking out on issues related to municipal finance.

Back in November 1992, Cardin was touted as the next bond champion. His aide was quoted as saying Cardin wanted to "try to fill the void left by Anthony."

Then during a Ways and Means Committee hearing in March of this year, Cardin told Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen that the Clinton Administration should throw its support behind the bond proposals contained in the comprehensive tax legislation that Congress passed in 1992 but President Bush vetoed.

On Nov. 4, Cardin sent a letter to House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dan Rostenkowski, D-Ill., urging him not to forget about two tax-exempt bond provisions that were cut from a simplification bill passed by the committee. Municipal lobbyists said the letter was significant because Cardin was able to garner the signatures of a bipartisan majority of the panel.

Beyond Cardin and Coyne, a core group of bond supporters seems to be forming on the Ways and Means committee, as evidenced by the four panel members who signed the Cardin and Coyne letters and who signed on in support of Coyne's bill. They are: Richard E. Neal, D-Mass., William J. Jefferson, D-La., Bill K. Brewster, D-Okla., and Michael J. Kopetski, D-Ore.

So it seems there may be a plethora of new Anthonys. But given the growing number of tax legislators voicing support for municipal finance, the answer to the Anthony succession question may be None of the Above.

Anthony stirred up the legislative pot on municipal bonds when it wasn't fashionable to do so. In the late 1980s, he was often the only tax committee member vocally supporting municipal bonds.

Now that Anthony has blazed the trail, some bond proponents argue that the municipal community no longer needs one single-minded bond advocate in Congress, but will do fine with a number of strong supporters who can band together to get legislation passed.

With Coyne and Cardin, and the group backing them, that may well be what the municipal community finally does have.

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