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Federal, State, and Local Governments
Government Finance and Employment Classification Manual
Chapter 9 - Indebtedness
Contents and Abstract:|
Perhaps more than any other area of public finances, government debt has grown increasingly diverse and complex since the Census Bureau's classification system was created. The effect of these changes on the classification system has been so pronounced that major changes were made to it beginning with the fiscal year 1987-88 finance survey.
Public debt comprises all interest-bearing short-term credit obligations and all long-term credit obligations incurred in the name of the government and all its dependent agencies, whether backed by the government's full faith and credit or nonguaranteed. It includes tax-exempt as well as taxable public debt.
The Census Bureau concept of public debt is an inclusive one, covering judgments, mortgages, "revenue" and "earning" bonds, and special assessment obligations as well as the more traditional general obligation bonds, notes, and interest-bearing short-term warrants. It includes not only public debt for public improvements (roads, sewers, airports, etc.) but also public debt issued for the direct benefit of the private sector (industrial development, mortgage revenue, pollution control abatement, etc.). See Section 9.3 for a more detailed discussion of this topic.
This definition covers obligations of all agencies, boards, commissions, or other organizations categorized as dependent on the government concerned (see Chapter 3). For instance, government business-type activities, particularly utilities, have debt that is payable exclusively from earnings of the facilities which the debt financed. Many special assessment obligations are paid completely from levies on the property benefiting from such improvements, without recourse to the general credit of the government. State authorities, educational institutions, and other agencies frequently have debt secured only by their own revenues, other dedicated receipts, or agency properties. These types of obligations are issued widely by dependent agencies of a government, such as special improvement districts of city corporations, state dormitory authorities, or housing finance agencies. Often, the parent government does not even maintain central accounts on such debt. Nonetheless, all these examples are types of credit obligations reported in Census Bureau statistics on public debt.
The Bureau assigns public debt, as defined above, to the government in whose name it is incurred, regardless of the location of responsibility for debt service. In the case of public debt for private purposes, this generally represents the government whose tax-exempt status was used to issue such debt. State obligations for which interest and principal payments are financed by local government payments to the state are treated as state debt. Similarly, debt of an agency classified as dependent on a local government is treated as local government debt.
This concept of public debt, however, is not so broad that it covers every liability listed on the balance sheets or elsewhere in government finance reports. The following types of liabilities are excluded from Census Bureau statistics:
Because of the growing complexity of government debt financing and the increasing difficulty in collecting statistics regarding it, the Census Bureau instituted major classification changes to this area, effective with fiscal year 1987-88 data. The major effects of the changes were to simplify the classification scheme and to identify more completely public debt for private purposes.
The classification changes can be summarized as follows:
For Census Bureau statistics, public debt is classified into four categories using a 3-digit coding scheme. Except for the first category, all apply solely to long-term debt. These categories are defined in detail in the Description of Debt Categories. Below is a summary of each:
See Chapter Four for detailed definitions of these functional categories (except Public Debt for Private Purposes, which is not a function per se).
This functional debt category, first used in the fiscal year 1987-88 survey, represents a consolidation of two former categories plus certain debt from others. It is now one of the largest type of state and local government debt.
Public debt for private purposes comprises credit obligations of a government or any of its dependent agencies for the purpose of funding private sector activities (see Note 3), including debt that is backed solely by the private organization(s) involved. Such debt is assigned to the government whose bond-issuing authority was used to secure its tax-exempt status or, in the case of taxable debt, was used for its issuance. Examples of private sector activities funded include industrial and commercial development, pollution control, housing and mortgage loans, private hospital facilities, student loans, and such private ventures as sports stadiums, convention centers, and shopping malls.
This type of debt poses certain data collection problems for the Bureau. First, it is not listed always in the financial statements of the government issuing it. Often, the debt is discovered in secondary sources, such as Moodys. Second, even if its issuance is identifiable, its retirement schedule, interest payments, and amount outstanding may be unavailable, requiring the Bureau to estimate them. Third, the governments' themselves often do not construe such debt to be their own and object to its being included in Census Bureau statistics about their finances. Finally, this debt can distort the presentation of data, such as its effect on per capita debt when a small government (in population) issues a large amount of public debt for private purposes.
Public debt for private purpose also generates special treatment regarding its related revenue, expenditure, and even cash and security holdings. This treatment was revised for the fiscal year 1987-88 survey to cover all types of debt like this; previously, it was limited to mortgage revenue debt (the old "W" code debt).
Another growing (in volume and complexity) feature of public debt finances is the refunding of long-term debt. Governments often retire debt before it matures by issuing more debt--generally at a lower interest rate (like refinancing a mortgage). A more peculiar version is advance refunding where a government issues new debt but sets aside the proceeds rather than actually paying off the old debt. The old debt, in turn, is "defeased" and removed from the government's accounting statement. How such activities are reported in Census Bureau statistics is described in the next two sections.
Regular (or direct) refunding refers to the issuance of long-term obligations in exchange for, or to finance the retirement of, existing long-term debt, typically on or after the first call date of the debt to be refunded. This rather straightforward transaction is classified for Census Bureau statistics as described below:
A much more complex situation is when a government issues refunding debt but cannot legally retire the old debt under the terms of the original debt issuance (typically, 10 years after its issuance). That is, the original debt's "first call" date has not yet been reached. Usually, this occurs during times when interest rates are falling dramatically. In these cases, the government places the proceeds of the refunding bonds in escrow, which includes enough monies to cover the debt service (principal and interest) until the original debt's first call date is reached, when the escrowed funds are used to retire the original debt's remaining balance.
The government generally has two choices on treating the refunded debt: One, if the refunding debt issued is sufficient to pay the remaining principal and all future interest on the original debt, then the government can remove the original debt from its balance sheet, an action called defeasance. For Census Bureau purposes, a debt is defeased whether or not the government is released from its legal obligation for the debt (legal defeasance) or remains the primary obligor (in-substance defeasance).
Two, the government may use the escrow funds to pay the interest and principle due on the refunding debt, not the original debt, until a certain date is reached, at which time the escrowed money is used to retire the original debt, which is then defeased. This type of advance refunding is called "crossover" refunding.
The example below illustrates a typical advance refunding:
City X has $10 million in water utility nonguaranteed debt outstanding at 13% interest whose first call date is not for four more years. It issues $12 million in advance refunding bonds (at 6%) to cover principal and interest to maturity. The proceeds are used to purchase Federal securities which are placed in escrow and used for debt service on the original issue. The original debt is "defeased" and removed from the books of the government. Assume that there is no other principal paid on either the original or advance refunding debt.
For Census Bureau statistics, this advance refunding scenario would be treated in the following manner:
From the debt data that is collected from state and local governments, the Census Bureau also computes derived statistics on indebtedness. Some of these also use data gathered on cash and security holdings. Note that there are no census codes associated with these types of statistics.
Borrowing is an estimate of the net amount of new money that a government has borrowed during the fiscal year, including short- and long-term debt. It consists of the par value of long-term debt issued during the year (other than for refunding purposes) plus any net increase in short-term debt between the beginning and end of the fiscal year. Note that it does not reflect the total amount of short-term debt sold during the year.
Shown as a formula using Census Bureau 3-digit debt codes, borrowing is computed as follows (the asterisk (*) in the formulas below stands for the appropriate function code for the debt issued or retired):
Redemption is an estimate of the net amount of debt that a government has paid off during the fiscal year, including short- and long-term debt. It consists of the par value of long-term debt retired during the year (other than debt retired by refunding) minus any net decrease in short-term debt between the beginning and end of the fiscal year. Note that it does not reflect the total amount of short-term debt paid off during the year.
Shown as a formula using Census Bureau 3-digit debt codes, redemption is computed as follows:
Note that debt redemption includes debt redeemed not only from current revenue or prior year fund balances but also from the sale of assets accumulated in debt service funds (sinking funds). The transfer of current revenue to such funds for future debt service is considered an intragovernmental transaction and, therefore, is not included in either revenue or expenditure statistics. (The amounts held, however, are recorded as cash and securities; see Chapter 10 for details.)
Combining features of both debt borrowing and redemption, change in debt is an estimate of the net change in a government's indebtedness during the fiscal year. It consists of the par value of long-term debt issued during the fiscal year less the par value of long-term debt retired during the year plus (or minus) the change in short-term debt between the beginning and end of the fiscal year. Note that it does not reflect the total amount of short-term debt sold or paid off during the year.
Shown as a formula using Census Bureau 3-digit debt codes, change in debt is computed as follows:
Net long-term debt outstanding is the amount of long-term debt held by a government for which no funds have been set aside for its repayment. It consists of total long-term debt outstanding less total offsets to debt (i.e. cash and security holdings in debt service, or sinking, funds). Shown as a formula using Census Bureau 3-digit debt codes, net long-term debt outstanding is computed as follows:
For state governments and the largest city and county governments whose data are compiled specially by the Bureau, net long-term debt is divided further between full-faith and credit and nonguaranteed.
See Chapter 10 for a description of offsets to full-faith and credit and to nonguaranteed debt (codes 71W and 74W).
This section covers topics not discussed elsewhere, primarily new and more complex debt instruments that governments have employed in recent years.
Deep discount bonds and their equivalents (zero-coupon bonds, compound interest bonds, etc.) are debt instruments sold at a price much below their face value. The interest they earn is added to the value of the bond rather than paid out serially (similar to how U. S. savings bonds work). Stated formally, interest is reinvested, compounded at the original rate that applied to principal, and paid at maturity.
For Census Bureau statistics, deep discount debt transactions are reported as follows:
To reduce the cost of issuing debt and to achieve a lower interest rate, governments sometimes agree to issue debt jointly rather than individually. For instance, a state government may create a "bond bank" that issues debt in the state's name that is then used to purchase securities from local governments. Local governments may also create their own bond banks or enter into "pooled debt" arrangements where one member issues debt and others borrow from the proceeds.
For Census Bureau statistics, such arrangements are reported as follows:
For Census Bureau statistics, leases, lease-purchase arrangements, lease-rental agreements, and the like are not considered public debt (see Note 5). Instead, payments on them are reported as capital outlay; see Section 6.72 for details.
A government may enter into a leasing arrangement with a private firm in lieu of issuing debt and building their own facilities. The private firm obtains funding for the project, builds it, and leases the facility or equipment back to the government. For the government, leases offer the advantages of not requiring voter approval and are not counted toward its debt limitation ceiling.
Note that Census Bureau debt categories do include lease-rental bonds issued by a dependent agency of a government which builds a facility that it leases back to the parent government. Lease payments, of course, would not be reported since they represent intragovernmental transfers.
For Census Bureau statistics, taxable public debt is reported in the same manner as tax exempt public debt.
Most government debt is tax exempt; that is, the interest it pays to bondholders is exempt from Federal income taxes. In some cases, however, governments will issue debt that does not receive exemption from Federal taxes (for instance, to get around debt limitations).