Greek American Professional Women in Complex Legal Fields: Financing our Nation’s Infrastructure

September 27, 2018

It is not difficult to convince somebody that taxation is a very complicated matter.

Apart from its complexity since it covers a wide spectrum of human activities, taxation is also a very dynamic area since it has to continuously adapt to an ever changing technological, business, economic and above all political and social environment.

That is why when tax Attorney Vassiliki (Vicky) Tsilas, a former United States Treasury and IRS official and currently an equity partner of a major law firm in Washington DC told me that she was mainly dealing with “Tax-Exempt Bonds”, I was not surprised but certainly bewildered as the subject sounded, to me at least, arcane, disconnected from ordinary life and highly specialized.

But I could not be more wrong.

Because when, subsequently, curiosity made me research further, I realized that the tax-exempt bond field, though certainly extremely difficult and complex, constitutes one of the critical tools used to finance our nation’s infrastructure.

I found out that 90% of American public infrastructure on the state and local government level, is financed by tax-exempt bond loans. A vast number of projects at every state and local level pertaining to education, utilities, transportation, health care, electric power, housing, public and environmental facilities and industrial development are financed by capitals raised through tax-exempt bonds. To be noted that public finance law involves finding ways to help governments and nonprofit organizations pay for large-scale public projects. Those financings are often extremely complex and involve multiple participants and many millions of dollars, sometimes billions.

All citizens benefit from tax-exempt bonds as they are used by the states and localities to build schools, roads, bridges, airports, sewer and water systems, hospitals, fire stations, mass transit facilities, colleges and universities and most public facilities that citizens rely on regularly.

Furthermore, most tax-exempt bonds are purchased by individuals. In 2018, the largest proportion of state and local government debt is held by individuals, households, mutual fund and money market fund investors. The tax-exempt bond market is a $3.8 trillion market.

In view of the enormity of the seemingly “arcane” but critically important tax-exempt bond area, it is easy to understand the high priority attached to this field both by the US Treasury, the IRS, lawmakers and law firms that specialize in this area.

And it is not difficult to realize how valuable expertise knowledge in this field and how much appreciated are expert lawyers like our very own Greek American lawyer Vicky Tsilas.

Vicky Tsilas is one of the nation’s foremost legal experts on federal tax issues relating to financing infrastructure with tax-exempt bonds. Ms. Tsilas served in senior legal positions overseeing tax-exempt bonds at the U.S. Treasury Department, Office of Tax Policy and the Internal Revenue Service Chief Counsel’s Office. At the IRS, she was Branch Chief of the Tax-Exempt Bond Branch for Financial Institutions and Products in the Chief Counsel’s Office. In that role, she supervised a team of attorneys that provided regulatory and other guidance that responded to taxpayers on matters involving the interpretation and application of tax law. She was also the Chief Counsel representative to an IRS focus group that provided recommendations to IRS agents dealing with complicated tax-exempt bond issues.

At the U.S. Treasury Department, Ms. Tsilas was in the Office of Tax Policy, where she oversaw the development and review of IRS regulations and guidance involving tax-exempt and tax credit bond financings. She advised Treasury officials in the formulation of U.S. policy on tax-exempt, public-private partnerships, and tax credit bond transactions and worked closely with Congress on legislative matters involving tax-exempt bonds.

Ms. Tsilas is currently a partner at the Washington DC office of the national law firm, Ballard Spahr, a firm with more than 650 lawyers in 15 offices across the United States. Vicky Tsilas’ work focuses on federal tax law, including the taxation of municipal bonds and tax-exempt organizations such as churches, hospitals, schools, and charitable foundations. She represents nonprofit organizations as borrowers and state and local governments as bond counsel in tax-exempt bond financings. Ms. Tsilas also represents clients in IRS audits of tax-exempt bond financings.

Ballard Spahr has one of the country’s top-ranked public finance practices. It has participated in the issuance of more than $1 trillion of tax-exempt obligations in every U.S. state and territory, as well as the District of Columbia. Ms. Tsilas works on a sophisticated legal team that helps clients finance highways, water and sewer systems, energy facilities, hospitals and schools, transportation centers, and affordable housing developments. They also work with public-private partnerships—known as P3s—in which governments team up with private companies to finance projects that benefit the public.

Ms. Tsilas—who clerked at the United States Tax Court and holds an LL.M from Georgetown University in Taxation and a J.D from the Fordham University School of Law—speaks and writes nationally on the subject of tax-exempt bond financings and has received numerous awards in recognition of her work. She recently co-authored the 2018 Edition of “ABC’s of Arbitrage – Tax Rules for Investment of Bond Proceeds of Municipalities,” a book published by the American Bar Association.

She is also raising two children George Loucas and Penelope and is an avid skier and runner. In keeping with her proud Greek heritage she has run two marathons.


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