February 1st, 2013 | by NIGEL JAQUISS News | Posted In: Business, Politics, Legislature

Just in Time for the CRC: State Will Have New Debt Capacity

Treasurer's report says funding available for highway project

     
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news2_crc_3814Proposed Columbia River Crossing

When the Legislature convenes on Feb. 4, one of the first orders of business will be an attempt to find $450 million to fund Oregon's down-payment on the proposed $3.5 billion Columbia River Crossing project.

There are different theories funding about how House Speaker Tina Kotek (D-Portland), the Legislature's biggest backer of the CRC, will suggest paying that tab.

The Oregon Department of Transportation has outlined some options, including hiking the gas tax; raising vehicle registration and title fees. ODOT itself is tapped out, having borrowed nearly $2 billion for a series of highway and bridge projects over the past decade.

Today, State Treasurer Ted Wheeler provided some hope for CRC boosters.

Wheeler's State Debt Policy Advisory Committee provides each Legislature with a report on the state's ability to borrow and in currently that borrowing ability. The commission tries to limit debt to 5 percent of general fund revenues, and it's currently maxed out. That means the state has little or no capacity to borrow new money until the end of the current fiscal year, June 30.

But due to low interest rates and the repayment of existing debt, the Debt Advisory Committee says the state will have lots of capacity starting July 1.


"Based on revenue forecast and estimated interest rates, the Commission said Tuesday that the state can allot a maximum of $902 million in additional General Fund-backed debt in the 2013-15 biennium and still remain below the prudent threshold," says a statement from Wheeler.


In a 96-page accompanying report, there are a couple of interesting notes:

First, the state has the ability to issue up to $4.3 billion in general obligation highway bonds. None of that capacity is currently being used. And second, Wheeler's committee has identified those highway bonds as an excellent tool for funding the CRC.

"While bonding has not yet been authorized for this project by either state, the CRC’s financial plan envisions that 1/3 of the overall project will be funded through Federal grants, 1/3 through toll-backed federal loans and/or the issuance of state-backed toll bonds, with the balance of the funding through $450 million in equity contributions by each state that are likely to be funded through some type of state bonding program during the 2013-15 biennium," the Debt Advisory Committee report says on page 23.

"In Oregon, this equity contribution could most cost-effectively be accomplished through the issuance of Article XI, Section 7 Transportation General Obligation Bonds, with annual debt repayment coming from some combination of increased motor vehicle fees and/or fuel taxes."
 
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