For years, one of the major targets of liberal advocates of tax reform has been the growing use of state and municipal industrial development bonds to finance the construction projects of private corporations.
The Jimmy Carter administration, charging that the tax subsidy often is abused and amounts to an unneccessary underwriting of companies and special interests, pushed through modest restrictions on these securities in 1978.
Still, use of the bonds -- and their accompanying breaks for companies in the form of tax-exempt interest for IDB investors -- continues to be a major factor in the marketplace.
Now, even the District of Columbia government is joining in -- with a new legislative package designed to clear the way for the Mayor Marion Barry administration to begin issuing IDBs as early as this summer.
Officials say they've already lined up about half a dozed firms ready to build new plants or expand old ones in the District if the revenue bonds become available.
"Our feeling is as long as the surrounding jurisdictions are using them, why shouldn't we?" says Ann Kinney, Barry's chief economic counselor. "It's time we had the same kind of advantages they do."
Kinney says the Barry administration's new foray stems from a recommendation by the city's bond counsel last year that the District begin issuing IDBs to help attract new industry -- and bolster job-growth.
Officials say the District government already has the authority to issue industrial development bonds, and the City Council approved the move in principle last year.
What the administration still hopes to clear up is a potential snag in congressionally enacted Home Rule charger, which requires that debt service on the bonds be included in the annual D.C. appropriations bill.
The mayor's office has sent Congress a proposal to exclude any such debt service payments from the appropriations process. So far, neither the House nor Senate has taken the legislation up, but Kinney says "we're optimistic."
Kinney describes the current procedure as "a serious hitch." Officials fear that if debt service is not taken out of the appropriations process, there could be delays that might make buyers shun the D.C. bonds.
Analysts concede that in technical terms, at least, the move into IDBs isn't lkely to act directly to eleiminate the District's budget deficit. If anything, there's an outside chance they could hurt the city's credit.
Although the bonds being considered would require companies to make good if expansion projects were to fall through, too many such defaults could tarnish the city's rating.
At the same time, however, the administration also is moving toward use of regular general-obligation bonds to help finance capital improvements -- presumable easing pressure on the operating budget as well.
Kinney declined to say how large the initial offering might be, or which area firms have indicated they'd like to take advantage of the first installment.
However, sources suggested that if all six firms actually decide to go along, the bond offering could total between $12 million and $16 million. One of the projects is said to include expansion of the National Co.'s WRC studios on Nebraska Avenue NW.
IDBs have been a subject of controversy among tax experts. Under the plan, states or localilties give their backing to private expansion projects. In return, payments to invesstors are tax-exempt.
The concept, introduced in the late 1960s, was designed to help localities attract industry and finance projects that serve the public -- such as industrial parks and stadiums.
Liberals have contended that jurisdictions too often have abused the system by agreeing to underwrite corporate projects that properly should be financed solely by the companies -- such as plant expansion.
Virginia has been criticized heavily for use of industrial development bonds in such a manner. The 1978 crackdown by Congress merely restricted the "rollover" of such bonds and did not prohibit their use entirely.
The move to IDBs was one of several proposed by the city's bond counsel in a 1978 report.
According to the new Home Rule charter, the District may issue IDBs to help promote construction of new housing, health facilities, transportation or utility plants, recreational facilities, colleges and commerrcial development.
Ann Kinney -- an economist with a Ph.D. who is Barry's executive assistant for economic development -- was named in April 1979 to "coordinate" the administration's efforts to step up economic development in the District.
Kinney worked as a full-time volunteer for the City Council's finance and revenue committee before joining Barry's staff and later was an active fund-raiser during Barry's campaign for mayor.
In announcing Kinney's appointment last April, Barry noted he had doubled the size of the city's economic development staff -- from eight to 17 persons -- and would seek to double the agency's spending in his 1980 budget.