A bill providing up to $2 billion in federal loan guarantees for New York City passed the House yesterday by a 247 to 155 vote.
The bill now goes to the Senate where it is in difficulty, as the Senate Banking Committee appears to be leaning to a continuation of short-term loans instead.
Current federal obligations to the financially beleagured city expire on June 30. Under the bill, which would provide federal loan guarantees on New York City municipal bonds over the next 15 years, the city would have to agree to an independent fiscal monitor who could disapprove expenditures and contracts, permit independent annual audits and submit a plan to balance its budget over the next four years.
Efforts by opponents to defeat the bill and sent it back to committee with instructions to provide a three-year continuation of short-term loans instead failed by a 291 to 109 vote. The effort, led by Rep. J. William Stanton (R-Ohio) would have called for a gradual reduction of the loan amount from $2 billion the first year to $800 million the third year.
Stanton said he thought New York was seeking aid because it was "afraid of bankruptcy" but he said the bill goes far beyond that and "moves to the point of capital improvements."
But Majority Leader Jim Wright (D-Tex.) said the bill "would not cost one penny" and New York had repaid "every penny with interest" of short-term loans approved by Congress in 1975.
Wright said that $1 out of every $10 in taxes was paid by New York citizens for federal aid to Appalachia, for the dust bowl disaster in the Midwest and for water projects in the West. "When one member of the family is smitten, the rest come to their aid . . . all New York is asking is a vote of confidence in its future," Wright said.
Rep. Robert Bauman (R-Md.) said he predicted in 1975 New York "would be back again for aid.I have to ascribe the failure of New York City to a political lack of will to balance the budget and do the hard things necessary," Bauman said.
But Rep. Thomas Ashley (D-Ohio) said "never in the history of the U.S.A. has a city put itself through the ringer the way New York has." Ashley said the city eliminated 61,000 jobs, increased subway fares 42 percent, tightened welfare requirements and closed hospitals.
Rep. Richard Kelly (R-Fla.) noted California's adoption of a tax reduction proposal and said the bill presented an opportunity to "tell Americans we got the message."
"New York City pays the biggest welfare payments in the country and that's why they're in trouble," Kelly said. "They've got a bunch of politicians buying elections and that's why they're in trouble. They're paying teachers with eight years experience over $30,000 and that's why they're in trouble," Kelly said.
Letting New York fail would affect the municipal bond market by increasing the interest on borrowing and hurt local taxpayers "from Maine to California," House Banking Committee Chairman Henry Reuss (D-Wis.) said. He called it "about the worst kick in the teeth" Congress could give voters in California who supported the property tax rollback.
The seasonal financing bill of 1975 provided $2.3 billion in federal funds for New York in the form of short-term loans to avoid bankruptcy. At that time New York was unable to borrow money on the municipal bond market. New York was required to repay the loans with interest by the end of the fiscal year in which they were made. When the bill expires on June 30, the Treasury Secretary's power to authorize loans will cease, and the city will probably be unable to borrow in the private market without some additional federal guarantee.
Felix G. Rohatyn, chairman of the Municipal Assistance Corporation, and architect of the city's financial structure during the last three years has estimated that the city has, at best, $2.5 billion borrowing power even with the federal guarantees.
City and state officials have argues that a continuation of short-term loans would leave the city right where it is without a way out of its financial dilemma.
The Carter Administration has pushed for the long-term guarantees, but Sen. William Proxmire (D-Wis.), chairman of the Senate Banking Commitee, opposes them and his committee appears about evenly split on the issue.
If the city should default on the loans, the federal government has the right to withhold revenue sharing funds and other transfer payments of federal aid.