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Missing a Once-in-a-Lifetime Opportunity


June 4, 2013 by Lynn Nordby
Category: Finance

Missing a Once-in-a-Lifetime Opportunity

Historians are going to look back at this time in our nation’s history and shake their heads at the opportunities cities, counties, states, and school districts failed to capitalize on. With interest rates at the lowest we’re likely to see in a lifetime, contractors hungry and willing to bid competitively, and people that need work, we’re in a position to “kill a lot of birds with the same stone,” and our sling shots are empty.

Local bond issues, borrowing to finance local and state capital construction projects, have been a time-honored way to finance the building of facilities vital to the service of our communities. However, this avenue is being ignored at a time when water and sewer systems, roads, bridges, schools—all the very things that we’ve been told over and over again are falling apart—could be built, repaired, or expanded to keep America competitive for generations to come.

With every bond issue, there’s someone who looks forward and calculates the payments on principal and interest and complains about how much the project is going to cost by the time the last payment is made. Well, guess what? These needs aren't going to go away, and interest rates aren't going to stay this low forever. We’re at a point where we’re just about as close as we’re ever likely to come to being able to use “free money.” There used to be an advertising campaign for a brand of automotive oil filter with the tag line, “You can pay me now, or pay me later.” Maybe that should be our national motto. If we wait around much longer fearing anti-tax movements instead of jumping on this once-in-a-lifetime chance, we’ll be sorry. The work we’ll need to do to stay on top in this world will cost more, if we can even afford to do it, and America’s leading position will be that much harder to maintain.

I don’t want to be able to say, “I told you so.”

MRSC is a private nonprofit organization serving local governments in Washington State. Eligible government agencies in Washington State may use our free, one-on-one Ask MRSC service to get answers to legal, policy, or financial questions.

About Lynn Nordby

Lynn’s public sector career includes 30 years in local government management and experience in virtually all municipal services including the operations of a wide variety of municipal utilities. He is a Credentialed Manager through the ICMA Voluntary Credentialing program.

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