Better America Bonds

Published December 1, 1999

Vice President Al Gore, whose efforts to rid the country of urban sprawl and greenhouse gases have already made him the designated “environmentalist” candidate for the Y2K Presidential nomination, could soon have at his disposal $9.5 billion to bolster his environmentalist credentials.

And it would be money whose expenditure does not require the approval of Congress.

Included in the Clinton-Gore administration’s proposed FY 2000 budget is $700 million in tax credits that over five years will generate $9.5 billion in bond authority. Known as “Better America Bonds (BAB),” this latest example of creative financing by the Oval Office will be available to state, local, and tribal governments for the purchase and protection of land.

“Communities will have access to zero-interest financing because investors who buy these 15-year bonds will receive tax credits in lieu of interest,” the White House explained.

The bonds program, according to the administration, is intended to “help communities reconnect with their land and water, preserve green space for future generations, and provide attractive settings for economic development.”

State, local, and tribal governments would apply to EPA for a bond allocation. Once acquired, the bond authority could be used to:

  • protect, restore or enhance green space, wetlands, farmland, endangered species habitat;
  • protect water quality; or
  • clean up brownfields that can be used as open space or for development.

The federal government’s role in bond projects is said to be “limited” to project review, approval, and bond certification.

While Gore’s efforts may appear to some as being strictly a plan aimed at improving the quality of life in this country, his every move in reality is part of the administration’s attempt to enact the provisions of the proposed Kyoto Protocol that is designed to deal with the problem of global warming. Although Kyoto requires Senate approval before it can take effect, Gore and other administration members have said they will attempt to implement the treaty even if the Senate rejects it.

To that end, the administration’s habit of thumbing its nose at this country’s traditional political process in order to achieve its goals can be seen once again with the inclusion of both the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in Gore’s program.

The EPA plays a central role in the Livability Agenda because it would head up an interagency review process for allocation of the BAB, while HUD will be responsible for managing something called the Regional Connections Initiative that will use $50 million as matching funds for local partnerships to develop smart growth plans. These plans may include “compact development incentives for new-growth areas,” such as the building of townhouses, apartments and row houses for the communities of the future.

The administration’s justification for its regional emphasis can be found in its summary of the Livability Agenda:

“The continued outward growth of our suburbs has made it increasingly difficult for any single community to address effectively a range of issues – such as transportation, environment, sprawl, and regional economics – that know no local jurisdictional boundaries. Because the White House believes that future economic prosperity may be linked to inter-community cooperation, it argues that regions increasingly “have become the economic hubs of our national economy and are critical to maintaining our competitive edge in the global marketplace.”