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Working Paper

Private-Activity Municipal Bonds: The Political Economy of Volume Cap Allocation

State governments allocate authority, under a federally imposed cap, to issue tax-exempt bonds that fund “private activities” such as industrial expansion, student loans, and low-income housing. This paper presents political economy models of the allocation process and an empirical analysis. Due to an idiosyncrasy of the tax code, the annual per capita volume cap varies widely between states. I estimate that, on average, there is an additional $0.80 per capita per year of borrowing for each additional dollar per capita of volume cap. This confirms that the cap is a binding constraint in most cases, and authority to issue tax-exempt bonds is a scarce resource. I find that mortgage revenue bonds and student loan bonds are the most responsive to differences in the cap. The gross state product and employment in manufacturing and utilities drive allocations to industrial development bonds and utilities bonds.

Suggested Citation

Whitaker, Stephan D. 2010. “Private-Activity Municipal Bonds: The Political Economy of Volume Cap Allocation.” Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, Working Paper No. 10-13.