By Susan Friend, CPA
The Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB) issued Statement No. 91, Conduit Debt Obligations, in May 2019 to attempt to eliminate diversity in practice related to the accounting for conduit debt issues.
This Statement aims to improve the existing guidance for conduit debt that exists in GASB Interpretation No. 2, Disclosure of Conduit Debt Obligations, which allowed for variation in practice among governments that issued conduit debt, affecting the comparability of financial statement information. The variation was the result of the option for government issuers to either recognize a conduit debt obligation as a liability in their financial statements or disclose the obligation only. Statement No. 91 clarifies the definition of conduit debt and establishes that a conduit debt obligation is not a liability of the issuer. The Statement also establishes standards for accounting and reporting for additional commitments and voluntary commitments extended by issuers and arrangements associated with conduit debt obligations. Additionally, the Statement enhances required disclosures in the financial statements. The requirements of this Statement are effective for reporting periods beginning after December 15, 2020, with earlier application encouraged.
Pursuant to the Statement, for accounting and financial reporting purposes, a conduit debt obligation is a debt instrument issued in the name of a state or local government (the issuer) that is for the benefit of a third-party who is primarily liable for the repayment of the debt instrument (the third-party obligor). A conduit debt obligation has all the following characteristics:
• There are at least three parties involved, (1) an issuer, (2) a third-party obligor and (3) a debt holder or debt trustee.
• The issuer and the third-party obligor are not within the same financial reporting entity.
• The debt obligation is not a parity bond of the issuer (a bond with equal rights to the collateral as other bonds issued under a common bond indenture), nor is it cross-collateralized with other debt of the issuer.
• The third-party obligor or its agent, not the issuer, ultimately receives the proceeds from the debt issuance.
• The third-party obligor, not the issuer, is primarily obligated for the payment of all amounts associated with the debt obligation.
All conduit debt obligations involve the issuer making a limited commitment. In a limited commitment, no responsibility for debt service payments beyond the resources, if any, provided by the third-party obligor are assumed by the issuer. Some issuers extend additional or voluntary commitments of its own resources. When an issuer makes an additional commitment, the issuer agrees to support debt service payments only in the event the third-party obligor is, or will be, unable to do so. When an issuer provides a voluntary commitment, the issuer on a voluntary basis decides to make a debt service payment or request an appropriation for a debt service payment in the event the third-party obligor is, or will be, unable to do so.
Although government issuers will no longer report conduit debt obligations as liabilities, they may need to recognize a liability related to additional commitments they make or voluntarily provide associated with that conduit debt. The Statement requires a government issuer to recognize a liability associated with an additional commitment or voluntary commitment if qualitative factors indicate it is more likely than not it will support one or more debt service payments for a conduit debt obligation.
If the recognition criteria are met, the issuer should recognize a liability and an expense in the financial statements prepared using the economic resources measurement focus. The amount recognized for the liability and expense should be measured as the discounted present value of the best estimate of the future outflows expected to be incurred. If there is no best estimate available, but a range of estimated future outflows can be established, the discounted present value of the minimum amount in that range should be recognized. Under the current financial resources measurement focus, an issuer should recognize a fund liability and expenditure to the extent that the liability is normally expected to be liquidated with expendable available resources.
As long as the conduit debt obligation is outstanding, an issuer that has made an additional commitment should evaluate, at least annually, whether the recognition criteria have been met. If an issuer has made a limited commitment, they should evaluate the likelihood that it will make a debt service payment due to a voluntary commitment when there is an event or circumstance that causes the issuer to consider supporting debt payments for that conduit debt obligation. If an event or circumstance occurs, the issuer should apply the recognition and measurement criteria for recording a liability and an expense. For limited commitments, the issuer should annually reevaluate whether that recognition criteria continues to be met for that specific obligation.
This Statement also addresses arrangements that are associated with conduit debt obligations. In these types of arrangements, proceeds of the conduit debt are used to construct or acquire capital assets that will be used by the third-party obligors in the course of their activities. Payments from the third-party obligor are used to cover debt service payments and the payment schedule of the arrangement coincides with the debt service repayment schedule. During these arrangements, the title to the capital assets remains with the issuer, and at the end of the arrangement, the title may or may not pass to the third-party obligor. The Statement clarifies that these arrangements should not be reported as leases and provides that issuers should not recognize a conduit debt obligation or a receivable for the payments related to the arrangement. Additionally, the Statement provides that in an arrangement where the issuer:
• Relinquishes the title at the end of the arrangement, the issuer should not recognize a capital asset.
• Retains the title and the third-party obligor has exclusive use of the entire capital asset during the arrangement, the issuer should recognize a capital asset at acquisition value and an inflow of resources when the arrangement ends.
• Retains title and the third-party obligor has exclusive use of portions of the capital asset, the issuer should recognize the entire capital asset at acquisition value and a deferred inflow of resources at the inception of the arrangement. The deferred inflow of resources should be reduced, and an inflow of resources should be recognized in a systematic and rational manner over the term of the arrangement.
The Statement has also enhanced conduit debt note disclosures by requiring the issuer to disclose a general description of their conduit debt obligations, commitments and the aggregate outstanding principal amount of all conduit debt obligations that share the same type of commitments at the end of the reporting period. If the issuer has recognized a liability, disclosures should also include information about the amount recognized, changes in the liability during the reporting period, cumulative payments made on the liability and any amounts expected to be recovered from those payments.
This article originally appeared in BDO USA, LLP’s “Nonprofit Standard” newsletter (Fall 2019). Copyright © 2019 BDO USA, LLP. All rights reserved. www.bdo.com