Stivers hopeful on infrastructure bill, PABs expansion in 2019


WASHINGTON — Expanding the uses for private activity bonds and enacting infrastructure legislation are the priorities that Rep. Steve Stivers, R-Ohio, will have in 2019 as the new GOP co-chair of the Municipal Finance Caucus.

Stivers also plans to use the recruiting skills he honed in the 2017-18 election cycle as chair of the House GOP campaign arm to enlist new members of the bipartisan caucus in the next Congress, he told The Bond Buyer.

Rep. Steve Stivers, R-Ohio, co-chair of the Municipal Finance Caucus

The Bond Buyer reported last week on a prematurely released email congratulating Stivers on becoming the new caucus co-chair, but the official announcement came Monday.

A former securities trader who serves on the House Financial Services Committee, Stivers will succeed Rep. Randy Hultgren, R-Ill., who lost in the November election that shifted majority control of the chamber to the Democrats.

The Republican losses have created some openings in committee leadership posts and Stivers is vying to become ranking Republican on one of the subcommittees of Financial Services.

Although Stivers is ending a two-year stint at the partisan National Republican Congressional Committee, he said in an interview he is more naturally bipartisan, citing how he co-founded the Civility and Respect Caucus in 2017 with Rep. Joyce Beatty, D-Ohio.

Stivers and Beatty represent adjoining congressional districts that share parts of the city of Columbus.

“I’ve always worked on policy in a very bipartisan way,” Stivers said, adding that he was “kind of reluctant” to take the NRCC position, “but somebody had to do it.”

Stivers’ Democratic co-chair of the Municipal Finance Caucus is Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger of Maryland.

Ruppersberger and Hultgren had a longstanding partnership on municipal finance issues that predated their decision to form the caucus in 2016. The two took the lead in gathering 137 signatures from colleagues in a June 2013 letter expressing concern to their leaders about proposals “to cap or eliminate the deduction on tax-exempt municipal bonds.”

Stivers said that although he’s been a member of the Municipal Finance Caucus, “I’ve not had a narrow focus on the muni market since I’ve been in Congress. I’ve had no bills that have been directly involved in the muni market, but it’s something I’ve cared deeply about.”

But Stivers pointed to his support of the Remote Transactions Parity Act which would require e-commerce retailers to collect sales tax based on the location of the purchaser. That bill and the Senate’s Marketplace Fairness Act both require states to either join the Streamlined Sales and Use Tax Agreement compact or agree to implement certain sales tax simplification measures.

Many state and local officials, however, have said the federal legislation isn’t necessary anymore in light of the Supreme Court ruling in South Dakota v. Wayfair that has offered states a way forward for requiring remote e-commerce retailers to collect sales tax.

Muni market participants are hopeful the new Congress can enact major infrastructure legislation that would include an expanded use of private activity bonds.

“I think there’s a great way forward on a bipartisan infrastructure bill,” Stivers said, emphasizing the urgency to act by pointing to the collapse of an overpass in nearby Cincinnati as an example.

“That’s concerning to me that our infrastructure is literally crumbling over our heads and under out feet,” he said. “We’ve got to invest in it and we’ve got to pay for it in my opinion.”

Stivers also used a local example in Columbus to highlight his support for expanding the use of PABs.

“We are about to build a new soccer stadium potentially and that is going to bring a lot of economic development downtown,” he said. “It is a big deal, but we need to make sure private activity bonds are something that work for our communities. So I’m good with expanding them.”

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