More than 2,000 communities across America own and operate public power systems. As non-profit systems, these municipal electric utilities support tax policies that allow them to build infrastructure, invest in communities and provide reliable service at affordable rates to their 30 million customers. LPPC is fighting to ensure that our members – who provide electricity to some of the largest cities in America, including Seattle, Austin, and Orlando, to name just a few – can continue to provide reliable electricity to homes and businesses at competitive prices.
1 | RETAIN, RESTORE, AND ENHANCE TAX-EXEMPT FINANCING TOOLS
Retain, Restore and Enhance Key Public Finance Tools
As the Administration and Congress develop legislation to stimulate the economy and support recovery from the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is imperative that tax-exempt financing (i.e., the exclusion of interest on state and municipal bonds from taxable income) continues to be fully preserved. Any future tax legislation should also restore the ability to issue tax-exempt advance refunding bonds. Advance refunding is an important tool for municipal utilities to lower borrowing costs associated with infrastructure development, which results in lower electric rates in the communities that we serve. Additional financing tools (i.e., direct pay bonds not subject to sequestration) and comparability on existing or new energy tax incentives will also be pursued.
2 | UPDATE PRIVATE USE RESTRICTIONS
Eliminate Undue Restrictions on Use of Tax-exempt Financing for Public Power Infrastructure Investment
Restrictions in section 141(b) of the Internal Revenue Code concerning “private use” are outdated. The Treasury Department and Congress should update the tax code and regulations addressing private use restrictions to remove unnecessarily restrictive limitations on the use of tax-exempt financing for public power infrastructure investment. Outdated private use restrictions constrain the manner in which public power systems conduct their operations. As the Administration and Congress address tax issues, LPPC will seek to reduce all counterproductive limitations on public power financing.
3 | ENSURE ELIGIBILITY FOR INFRASTRUCTURE SUPPORT
Publicly Owned Grid Infrastructure Should be Covered by any Federal Infrastructure Investment Program
As federal policies to support infrastructure investment are considered, it is critical they cover public power investment in electricity infrastructure. Like publicly owned transportation, water and wastewater systems, the nation’s electricity infrastructure is essential to the efficient operation of the economy. Federal support or incentives for infrastructure investment should be available to support a broad range of electric infrastructure investments by public power utilities. Although our members are public organizations, they do not have direct access to state or local government funding sources.
4 | REPEAL MANDATORY SEQUESTRATION FOR BUILD AMERICA BONDS
Direct Pay Bonds are an Effective Financing Tool for Public Power, but Must be Exempt from After-the-Fact Mandatory Sequestration on a Going Forward Basis
Build America Bonds (“BABs”) are taxable bonds on which the Federal Government reimburses the issuer for a portion of the interest paid. Although BABs were effective in helping finance public infrastructure projects at lower borrowing costs, the ability to issue BABs expired in 2010. In addition, the subsidy payments on existing bonds have been negatively impacted by across-the-board-cuts – sequestration – that went into effect on March 1, 2013. LPPC urges Congress to repeal sequestration of payments for existing BABs on a going forward basis and supports the reinstatement of BABs (or other direct pay bond programs) to support infrastructure investment without exposure to future sequestration.
5 | ALLOW FLEXIBILITY IN OPTIMIZING RESOURCE PLANNING
Public Power Utilities Undertake Careful Generation and Transmission Resource Planning to Ensure Reliability, Affordability and Environmental Stewardship
As the Administration contemplates action on climate and infrastructure and exercises its authority under the Federal Power Act, states and utilities should have flexibility to support resource planning tailored to their existing resource mixes, regional reliability and resilience risk and the balance necessary to achieve cost-effective portfolios on an “integrated” basis. This approach will ensure consideration for regional market differences, resource and infrastructure availability, and the optimal combination of resource attributes and system performance. This approach also focuses on the achievement of overarching policy outcomes in support of state-based decision-making and resource neutrality.
6 | INVEST IN GRID MODERNIZATION
Transmission and Distribution Networks Serve as an Essential Platform for Deployment of New Technologies
Public power utilities and the grids they build and operate serve as a catalyst for advancing economic development and environmental stewardship. The electric transmission and distribution grid, through digitization, can be transformed into an interoperable technology platform that balances and coordinates expanding technology adoption to support energy efficiency, transportation electrification, distributed generation, storage, smart homes, buildings and cities and the overall convergence of essential public services.
7 | EFFICIENT PERMIT REVIEW FOR CRITICAL INFRASTRUCTURE PROJECTS
Permitting for Energy Infrastructure Should be Timely
Timely action is needed on permits for critical electricity infrastructure projects aimed at preserving reliability and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Therefore, federal policy should be established to ensure that thorough, but timely processes are established, followed and updated, as necessary. Federal and state regulators and land agencies can efficiently and expeditiously complete the necessary permit reviews for construction of such critical infrastructure projects. Inter-agency coordination in federal permitting and effective federal-state collaboration are both necessary for new projects and for relicensing of existing facilities, such as hydroelectric facilities.
8 | FEDERAL RELIEF FUNDING
Provide Direct Support for Public Power Systems to Offset the Broader Economic Impacts Experienced by all Customers and Small Businesses
Many LPPC members are unable to access federal assistance funds targeted to state and local governments. Although LPPC members are public organizations, they do not have direct access to funds provided to other municipalities. All retail LPPC members have suspended disconnects and offered payment arrangements to customers to lessen the financial burdens caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, but post-pandemic business failures and extended unemployment will cause a significant spike in bad debt write-offs. As further relief is considered, funding to offset this, in a form directly accessible by LPPC members, should also be a priority.
LPPC members, like states, municipalities and other local government entities, use municipal bonds to invest in new infrastructure in the most affordable manner for the communities we serve. The interest earned on municipal bonds is currently exempt from federal income tax. In any future tax reform debates, Congress should continue the current federal tax treatment of municipal bonds. It is the primary financing tool of critical infrastructure investments and directly affects the prices that public power consumers pay for electricity, especially small business and low- and fixed-income households.
Every year, public power utilities average $15 billion in new infrastructure investment. This includes investments in power generation, transmission, distribution, reliability, demand control, efficiency and emissions control—which are all needed to deliver safe, affordable and reliable electricity. Over the next five years, LPPC members will issue $14.25 billion in tax-exempt municipal bonds to build and improve critical infrastructure to ensure reliability of the grid.
The U.S. municipal bond market is established and sound. With a robust and comprehensive federal legislative and regulatory system in place, investors and taxpayers are well-protected. LPPC members are significant participants in the municipal bond market; members currently hold $68.47 billion in tax-exempt bonds.
Limiting or eliminating the income tax exemption for interest from municipal bonds would increase borrowing costs for public power and other state and local governments and, as a result, would reduce investments in vital infrastructure across the country and increase the cost of electricity for public power consumers.
Maintaining the current exclusion for municipal bond interest is essential for infrastructure investment, economic growth, and job creation. They serve the best interests of communities.
As part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, Congress provided state and local governments, including public power, with a new kind of financing tool. Build America Bonds (BABs) address the disruption in the municipal bond market that resulted from the financial crisis.
These direct pay bonds were taxable bonds that the federal government reimbursed the issuer for a portion of the interest paid. They have helped state and local governments finance public infrastructure projects at lower borrowing costs. They expired at the end of 2010, and interest subsidy payments on existing were impacted by budget sequestration.
Direct payment bonds can be a useful complement to municipal bonds, and LPPC supports the addition of direct payment bond programs to support infrastructure investment and job creation.