New Zealand: Auckland could raise funds by issuing municipal bonds

Ambitions plans require audacious leadership.

Birmingham, the UK's largest local authority, has just secured a AAA rating from Standard & Poor's, the agency which recently downgraded America. It means that the English Midlands city can more easily borrow in future from banks and the capital markets. Foreign sovereign wealth funds would be more likely to invest capital to enable infrastructure upgrades to proceed. But where does Auckland stand?

An amalgam of eight previous local authorities, the new supercity Auckland Council has struggled to integrate inherited information technology,  yet to realise the long-held dream of a second harbour crossing, plans to extend the bus and rail commuter network, proposes to build a city-to-airport rail link and has other ambitious ideas. 

The city's population is expanding at a rapid rate and, as land shortages become more acute, property values and rents will rise. Already car dependent, Auckland's mayor appreciates the need to construct a viable city-wide public transport system.

Mayor Len Brown has articulated hard-nosed and far-sighted proposals designed to increase employment, reduce vehicular traffic and boost business. But funding is limited as hard-pressed ratepayers balk at rising bills and central government manages the costly effects of mining, quake and shipping disasters.

So when Birmingham signals proposals to issues municipal bonds, you have to wonder why a not dissimilarly sized New Zealand city cannot do likewise.

In Auckland complaints circulate about funding shortages as well as councellors' and bureaucrats' frustrations in attempting to make the place run efficiently. However, as yet no new bond releases. Why? New Zealand's largest city has a AA stable rating, or similar to that of Abu Dhabi or Qatar. It's well-off and relatively sensibly run, in other words.

I reckon Auckland could develop far more rapidly after issuing municipal bonds. Local government has been discussing the likes of a second harbour crossing for decades, for example, and now is a good time to build one.

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