It’s increasingly clear that the federal government’s “Build America Bonds” program, part of the stimulus, was a backdoor bailout for California. Under the program, states can issue taxable bonds, with the federal government reimbursing them for the higher interest rate required on such bonds, relative to tax-exempt debt.
Monday, as we reported, Municipal Market Advisors figured out that California and Texas together accounted for a disproportionate share of Build America Bonds.
Today, Standard & Poor’s reports that California will issue $4.5 billion of general-obligation bonds soon, with $2 billion of that done through the Build America taxable program.
That brings California’s share of Build America Bonds to $7.23 billion out of $36 billion issued, according to ThomsonReuters via the FT, or 21 percent of the total. This figure doesn’t include $1 billion issued by the University of California, and doesn’t include local or public-authority issuance, either.
By contrast, the next-biggest issuer, the New Jersey Turnpike Authority, is responsible for $1.4 billion, and two New York entities — the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and the New York State Dormitory Authority (which does housing and hospital stuff) — have together issued $1.6 billion.
If California’s usual debt purchasers — tax-exempt investors — are saturated, maybe that’s a sign that the state should dial back on its borrowing. Instead, the feds have given it an end-run around normal market signals.
That would even be OK in a short-term emergency, if the feds had required states to at least start to correct their spending imbalances — too much healthcare and education commensurate to results, not enough infrastructure — in return for stimulus money.