Tax-Exempt Bonds: A Description of State and Local Government Debt [January 9, 2015] [open pdf - 445KB]
"This report provides information about state and local government debt. State and local governments often issue debt instruments in exchange for the use of individuals' and businesses' savings. This debt obligates state and local governments to make interest payments for the use of these savings and to repay, at some time in the future, the amount borrowed. State and local governments finance capital facilities with debt rather than out of current tax revenue in order to match the time pattern of benefits from these capital facilities with the time pattern of tax payments. […] State and local debt is issued as bonds, to be repaid over a period of time greater than one year and perhaps exceeding 20 years, and as notes, to be repaid within one year. General obligation bonds are secured by the promise to repay with general tax revenue, and revenue bonds are secured with the promise to use the stream of revenue generated by the facility built with the bond proceeds. Most debt is issued to finance new capital facilities, but some is issued to refund a prior bond issue (usually to take advantage of lower interest rates). […] One major policy issue in this area is tax reform proposals that would modify the tax treatment of state and local government bonds. Another policy issue is whether constraints should be relaxed on the types of activities, such as infrastructure spending, for which entities can issue tax-exempt debt. The list of activities that classify tax-exempt private-activity bonds--and whether they should be included in the volume cap--is another area of potential change or reform."
CRS Report for Congress, RL30638