Updated Friday, October 31, 2014 as of 11:22 PM ET

Bridges Crumble as Muni Borrowers Ignore Lowest Rates Since ’60s

(Bloomberg)-- No state is needier than West Virginia when it comes to fixing crumbling highways, airports and water works, with annual repair needs of $1,035 per resident that’s three times the national average.

Yet even with borrowing costs hovering close to four-decade lows, lawmakers rejected a January proposal to sell $1 billion of bonds to repair roads that run through the Appalachian Mountains. Budget cuts were a more immediate concern, they said.

Across the U.S., localities are refraining from raising new funds in the $3.7 trillion municipal-bond market after the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression left them with unprecedented deficits. Rather than take advantage of Federal Reserve policy that’s held benchmark interest rates at historic lows since December 2008, they’re repaying obligations by the most on record.

“When you’re trying to be frugal, it’s probably not the time to eat caviar,” said Margaret Staggers, head of West Virginia’s House transportation committee, who said she was unable to persuade Democratic colleagues to support the bond plan.

The legacy of the 18-month recession that ended in June 2009 still looms large for America’s states and cities. While revenue has revived, governments are under pressure to increase funding for education and other services after years of cuts. They’re balancing those needs against required payments toward entitlements such as pensions, having set aside $1.4 trillion less than they’ve promised to retirees, according to Fed data.

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