WASHINGTON - The House Ways and Means Committee has taken the first step toward drafting a second tax bill this year by announcing its intention to hold hearings on nearly two dozen proposals related to tax-exempt financing.
The 23 proposals on municipal bonds are part of a much longer list of more than 100 tax-related items proposed by panel members. They include four so-called rifle shots - proposals that would benefit specific tax-exempt bond projects in California, Connecticut, Tennessee, and Wisconsin.
In making its announcement last week, the panel said hearings would begin June 17 in the subcommittee on select revenue measures on some of the tax proposals, but a hearing on the bond items has not yet been scheduled.
The committee approved President Clinton's budget and tax package May 13 without adding members' amendments. Rep. Dan Rostenkowski, D-Ill., the panel's chairman, prevailed upon members not to load the bill down with their favorite proposals. At the time, he promised them he would try to draft a second bill containing those items.
Despite the announcement of hearings, however, some municipal lobbyists remained skeptical that the committee's effort would amount to much.
"I think they're just doing it to air their issues," said one lobbyist. The hearings will allow panel members to show constituents and lobbyists that they were pushing for particular items of interest to those supporters, the lobbyist said.
But the panel may be goaded into putting a bill together if the Senate adds a large number of extraneous amendments to its version of the budget and tax package, said an aide to a member of the Ways and Means panel.
"If [senators] junk up the bill, as they generally do, then Rostenkowski will expedite a whole bunch of these" tax proposals, and try to add them when House and Senate tax conferees meet to. reconcile differences in their versions of the legislation, the aide said.
One rifle shot on the committee's hearing list, proposed by Rep. Gerald Kleczka, D-Wis., would resurrect a 1986 transition rule granted to Kenosha, Wis., to allow the city to issue $105 million in tax-exempt bonds to redevelop its downtown area. The city had been trying to build the project since the early 1980s, but had been delayed for various reasons. The 1986 act's transition rule expired Dec. 31, 1990.
Another rifle shot on the list would resurrect a 1986 transition rule granted to Memphis, Tenn., to allow the city to issue $140 million in tax-exempt bonds to build a redevelopment project called Peabody Place.
Memphis was unable to use the transition rule by the Dec. 31, 1990, cutoff date "because of the enormous scale of the Peabody Place project and of the many contingencies," including a delay in obtaining a federal grant, according to a statement by Rep. Harold E. Ford, D-Tenn., the sponsor of the proposal.
A third project-specific tax break would allow a change in the use of bond proceeds originally designated to build a science facility at Stanford University in California. The proceeds would instead be used to bolster existing campus facilities against earthquakes.
A fourth rifle shot would ease arbitrage rebate rules on bonds issued by Connecticut in the late 1980s, said an aide to Rep. Barbara Kennelly, D-Conn., who is sponsoring the proposal.
Also on the list is a proposal that would benefit the South Carolina Research Authority, but could also be applied in other jurisdictions, according to an aide to Rep. Butler Derrick, D-S.C.
The proposal would clarify that the tax code allows tax-exempt bonds to be issued for research facilities that are owned by a governmental entity or a private, nonprofit organization, but are used as part of a cooperative agreement that involves a private entity.
Kennelly is championing the proposal on the committee bacause Derrick is not a panel member.
Derrick's aide said the Joint Tax Committee "believes there are others" that would benefit from the proposal.
A large number of the other items on the list pertain to housing. For example, Rep. Charles B. Rangel, D-N.Y., is proposing to end a rule restricting the use of tax-exempt bonds in conjunction with the low-income housing tax credit. Normally, developers are permitted to take a credit equal to 70% of the low-income portion of their housing project, but the rule permits only a 30% credit if the project also involves tax-exempt financing.
Rangel is also proposing to ease various rules that apply to mortgage bond proceeds when they are used for cooperative housing, and to allow mortgage bond proceeds to be used for purchases of two-family homes in certain distressed areas.
Another housing proposal, offered by Kennelly, would increase the current limit to $25,000 from $15,000 on home improvement loans financed with mortgage bond proceeds.
Several other proposals on the list attack a variety of private-use restrictions in the tax law.
For example, Rep. Ben Cardin, D-Md., is proposing to ease the so-called private-use test. Under current law, a municipal bond issue is deemed taxable if more than 10% of the proceeds are used to benefit private business. An aide to Cardin said the congressman has not decided how much the level should be increased, but a return to the pre-1986 threshold of 25% is under consideration.
Another proposal on the list, pushed by New York City for several years, would ease a curb known as the private-loan bond restriction. That tax law provision limits the amount of proceeds from a public-purpose tax-exempt bond issue that can be used to finance private loans to the lesser of 5% or $5 million.
Also on the list is a proposal that would ease the private-activity bond volume cap. The proposal, by Rep. Fred Grandy, R-Iowa, would permit unused volume cap authority to be transferred to states that had used up their entire cap in a given year.
The list also contains several proposals that have already been introduced as legislation this year by committee members, including bills offered by: * Rep. Robert T. Matsui, D-Calif., to eliminate the $150 million limit on the amount of tax-exempt bonds that a 501 (c)(3) organization may have outstanding at one time. * Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., to allow banks to deduct 80% of the cost of carrying tax-exempt bonds if they are bought from issuers who sell no more than $20 million a year, up from the current level of $10 million. * Rep. Richard E. Neal, D-Mass., to eliminate a requirement that effectively limits the private-use portion of most public power bonds to $15 million. * Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Wash., to eliminate the tax exemption for public power bonds. * Rep. Andrew Jacobs, D-Ind., to permit volunteer fire departments to use tax-exempt financing to buy ambulances and other emergency response equipment. * Florida Democrats Sam Gibbons and E. Clay Shaw, to permit tax-exempt financing for governmentally owned spaceports.