What Is a Public Purpose Bond?

What Is a Public Purpose Bond?

4 Min.

A public purpose bond is a type of municipal bond that is issued by a state, municipality, or county to fund projects that benefit the public, such as schools, parks, or public roads. On the other hand, a private purpose bond is a type of bond that provides financing for a project where at least 10% of the benefit goes to the private sector. If you buy these bonds, you can earn interest exempt from federal income tax and, in some cases, state income tax if you reside in the state where the bond has been issued. A public purpose bond is a type of general obligation bond (GO), meaning municipalities are not required to provide assets for collateral. Instead, they rely on taxation and project revenue to repay the debt.


Municipalities issue public purpose bonds to support public infrastructure and community enhancements, ensuring the projects serve the broader public interest. These bonds typically offer tax-exempt benefits, rendering their income tax-free at the federal level and frequently at the state level for in-state residents.

How Does a Public Purpose Bond Work?

Public purpose bonds, a specific category of municipal bonds, serve as vital funding sources for public undertakings that lack private investment appeal or revenue generation. These bonds commonly finance diverse municipal initiatives, including road infrastructure, libraries, swimming pools, etc.

Originating from the Tax Reform Act of 1986, public purpose bonds attained tax-exempt status, marking them as distinct from private purpose bonds. To issue these bonds, municipalities must possess the authority to levy taxes on residents and wield eminent domain and police powers.

Public purpose bonds fall under the broader category of general obligation bonds (GO). Unlike revenue-backed bonds, GO bonds rely on the credit and taxation abilities of the issuing jurisdiction, negating the need for collateral. Municipalities issue these bonds with confidence in their ability to repay obligations through taxation or project-generated revenue.

Supervising Public Purpose Bond Offerings

The Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board (MSRB) functions as the regulatory authority responsible for formulating regulations and directives governing investment firms and banks engaged in the issuance and sale of municipal bonds, notes, and other municipal securities. Municipal securities are issued by states, cities, and counties for various purposes, and the MSRB serves as the authoritative repository of data and disclosure statements for all municipal debt securities in circulation. Issuers are obligated to furnish specific information to the MSRB, encompassing annual financial reports and notifications regarding events such as delinquencies, defaults, unscheduled withdrawals from debt service reserves, and any developments impacting the tax-exempt status of the security.

Public vs. Private Purpose Bonds

Distinguishing between public and private purpose bonds is based on the degree of public benefit in the funded project. Public purpose bonds primarily serve projects that offer broad public advantages, whereas private purpose bonds finance projects where at least 10% of the benefits accrue to private sector entities.

For instance, consider a scenario where a city seeks to attract economic investments and lures a corporation to establish its headquarters in the city. To incentivize this, the city issues a municipal bond to provide funding for the corporation's new headquarters construction. The city aims to stimulate job creation and enhance the local economy.

Through the issuance of these bonds, the corporation can secure funds at a lower interest rate compared to traditional bank loans. Consequently, the city gains from economic growth stimulated by the new corporate headquarters. It's noteworthy, however, that the income generated by investors through these bonds is subject to taxation due to the private entity's role in generating revenue.


Public purpose bonds and private purpose bonds serve distinct roles in the municipal finance landscape. Public purpose bonds enable municipalities to fund projects that benefit the broader public, enjoying tax-exempt status and reliance on taxation and project revenue for repayment. On the other hand, private purpose bonds finance projects where a portion of the benefits flows to private entities, subjecting investors to taxation. Understanding this difference is crucial for investors and local governments when considering financing options for public infrastructure and economic development.

Public Purpose Bond
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