Some things need to be repeated.

That is certainly true when it comes to discussing the need to head off confusion over the correct private-activity volume cap numbers states should use in future years.

States were caught in an quandary early this year when they discovered that the Census Bureau published the wrong population figures for states to use to compute their private-activity bond volume caps for 1991.

The Census Bureau corrected its error, but it remained unclear which of three possible population figures states should use.

The Treasury and Internal Revenue Service added to the confusion by dawdling around until late July before ruling that states had to revert to using their 1990 cap levels.

That penalized 16 states with rising populations by forcing them to cut their volume caps for this year, while it rewarded 12 states that lost population and should have had their volume caps reduced.

None of the 16 that had to cut their cap will have to take back allocations that have already been made, nor are they in danger of exceeding their volume limit and having their bonds declared taxable.

But it is unfair for states -- especially those that use up their entire cap each year -- to be told nearly seven months into the year that they will have less bond authority than expected.

In the current atmosphere of tight finances and reduced federal aid, the volume cap mess has created needless added uncertainty for states.

If the current confusion isn't bad enough, there are now indications that the recent flap over undercounting the population and chronic understaffing may make it difficult for the Census Bureau to meet the Dec. 31 deadline for releasing the 1991 population report, which states need to calculate the 1992 volume cap. That would force states to use the volume cap they should have received this year in 1992, and once again would penalize and create uncertainty for states with the fastest-growing populations.

There has to be a better way.

One that already has been recommended and should be suggested again is for the Treasury and the IRS to publish precise private-activity volume cap figures for every state each January, rather than forcing states to compute their own caps based on the mistake-prone Census figures.

Treasury and IRS officials oppose publishing either the population or volume cap figures because they say the population figures are available from the Census Bureau. But the Treasury and the IRS were given responsibility for enforcing the volume cap and have an obligation to make sure states will know exactly how much they can issue without confusion or chance for error.

If the Treasury won't assume responsibility for making sure states have the correct numbers, then Congress should force them to take that responsibility.

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