Puerto Rico's Current Fiscal Challenges

Puerto Rico’s Current Fiscal Challenges
D. Andrew Austin
Analyst in Economic Policy
April 11, 2016
Congressional Research Service
7-5700
www.crs.gov
R44095
Puerto Rico’s Current Fiscal Challenges
Summary
The government of Puerto Rico faces severe fiscal challenges. A federal District Court judge in
late March 2016 held that the island’s government was insolvent and unable to pay its obligations
on time. Emergency legislation (Act 21 of 2016) enacted on April 6, 2016, stated that the Puerto
Rican government’s fiscal condition “is more dire than at any other point in its history” and that
“depleted resources and strained liquidity threaten to bind the Commonwealth to a choice
between honoring its commitments to bondholders or continuing to provide the residents of
Puerto Rico with essential services.” On April 9, 2016, the Puerto Rican governor invoked
emergency authorities to maintain public operations.
The Puerto Rican government has been facing serious liquidity challenges despite several
measures taken by the island’s government to reduce spending, increase revenues, and restructure
its obligations. The island’s government has lost normal access to credit markets. Much of the
island’s liquidity challenges stem from substantial debt service costs facing the central
government and its public corporations. Much of the Puerto Rican government’s revenue stream
for the first part of its fiscal year, which began on July 1, is earmarked to redeem revenue bonds.
At the beginning of August 2015, Puerto Rico did not make a full interest and principal payment
due on bonds issued by the Public Finance Corporation, a subsidiary of the island’s Government
Development Bank (GDB), the island government’s fiscal agent. Whether the GDB can meet a
May 1, 2016 debt service payment is in doubt, as is the Commonwealth government’s ability to
make a larger debt service payment on July 1, 2016.
On June 29, 2015, Puerto Rico’s governor, Alejandro García Padilla, stated during a televised
address that “the debt is not payable.” García Padilla said his administration would seek
concessions from the island’s creditors as part of a new fiscal strategy, which would be developed
by a newly established working group on economic recovery and debt restructuring. On the same
day, a report commissioned from three former International Monetary Fund economists was
released, which described severe short-term funding challenges as well as long-standing issues
with key parts of the Puerto Rican economy and public sector. On September 9, 2015, a working
group appointed by the governor released a plan that outlined its strategy plan. Puerto Rico’s
financing gap over the coming five years, according to the plan, is nearly $28 billion. The plan’s
proposals, along with hoped-for improvement in economic growth, were said to halve that gap.
The precarious state of Puerto Rico’s public finances stems in part from prolonged economic
weakness. Economic growth has been sluggish even before the 2007-2009 recession, and official
forecasts project a continuation of slow growth. Previous analyses have pointed to low
employment and labor participation rates, high rates of outmigration leading to a decline in
population, an economic structure shaped more by tax advantages than comparative advantages,
and the effects of intensified global competition, among other factors. Others have pointed to
weaknesses in fiscal and operational controls.
In October 2015, the U.S. Treasury Department set out a reform framework and called on
Congress to pass legislation to aid Puerto Rico. Resident Commissioner Pierluisi introduced H.R.
870 on March 16, 2015, that would restore the island access to chapter 9 of the Bankruptcy Code.
Senator Blumenthal introduced a similar measure (S. 1774) on July 15, 2015. On December 18,
2015, Representative Pelosi introduced H.R. 4290, a measure to stay debt-related litigation.
Senator Warren introduced a companion measure (S. 2336) on the same day. Representative Sean
Duffy introduced H.R. 4199, a measure to provide fiscal oversight and a process for debt
restructuring, on December 9, 2015. Senator Hatch introduced a similar measure (S. 2381) on the
same day. The House Natural Resources Committee issued a discussion draft on March 29, 2016,
of the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act.
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Puerto Rico’s Current Fiscal Challenges
Contents
Puerto Rico’s Fiscal Emergency ...................................................................................................... 1
Emergency Moratorium and Financial Rehabilitation Act ........................................................ 1
Restructuring the Government Development Bank .................................................................. 2
Puerto Rico’s Fiscal Strategy........................................................................................................... 2
Puerto Rican Restructuring Act ................................................................................................. 2
Credit Ratings Downgrades and Loss of Market Access .......................................................... 3
FY2016 Budget ......................................................................................................................... 5
Puerto Rican Governor: Debt Unpayable.................................................................................. 5
Economic and Fiscal Recovery Working Group Plan ............................................................... 6
Extraordinary Liquidity Measures Used in Late 2015 and Early 2016 ..................................... 7
First Default in August 2015 ............................................................................................... 7
Loss of Credit Market Access Prevented Debt Roll-Overs................................................. 7
Constitutional Limits on Borrowing are Close to Binding ................................................. 8
Structural Initiatives to Address Fiscal Challenges ................................................................... 8
Fiscal Challenges Have Been Building for Years .......................................................................... 10
Debt Accumulation over Time ................................................................................................ 10
Public Corporations Incurred Much of Puerto Rico’s Public Debt ......................................... 12
Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority............................................................................... 13
Government Development Bank for Puerto Rico ............................................................. 14
Other Public Corporations ................................................................................................ 15
Fiscal Strategy and Outmigration .................................................................................................. 16
Potential Issues for Congress......................................................................................................... 18
Administration Proposals ........................................................................................................ 18
Credit Support ......................................................................................................................... 18
Federal Health and Income Support Programs ....................................................................... 19
Restructuring and Bankruptcy ................................................................................................. 19
Federalism, Flexibility, and Fiscal Responsibility .................................................................. 21
Control Board Proposals ......................................................................................................... 21
Structural Reforms in the Medium and Long Term ................................................................ 22
Figures
Figure 1. Selected Puerto Rico Bonds; Dollar Prices Since January 2011 ...................................... 4
Figure 2. Government Employment in Puerto Rico, 1990-2016 ................................................... 10
Figure 3. Per Capita General Fund Outlays & Revenues ............................................................... 11
Figure 4. Gross Public Debt of Puerto Rico in Billions of Constant Dollars, 1960-2014 ............. 12
Figure 5. Puerto Rico Resident Population Trends........................................................................ 17
Contacts
Author Contact Information .......................................................................................................... 23
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Puerto Rico’s Current Fiscal Challenges
Puerto Rico’s Fiscal Emergency
The government of Puerto Rico currently faces a serious fiscal emergency that is the culmination
of longstanding budgetary, economic, and financial challenges. While Puerto Rico has made a
number of structural reforms and has increased tax rates in the past few years, it had been unable
to head off increasingly urgent fiscal challenges.
The Puerto Rican government’s fiscal situation, according to emergency legislation (Act 21 of
2016) enacted on April 6, 2016, “is more dire than at any other point in its history” and “depleted
resources and strained liquidity threaten to bind the Commonwealth to a choice between honoring
its commitments to bondholders or continuing to provide the residents of Puerto Rico with
essential services.”1 A federal district judge in late March 2016 held in a case involving the tax
treatment of Walmart that the government of Puerto Rico “is insolvent and no longer able to pay
its debts as they become due.”2 The Governor of Puerto Rico, Alejandro García Padilla, while
signing the emergency act, was quoted as stating that “Puerto Rico is insolvent.”3
Emergency Moratorium and Financial Rehabilitation Act
The Puerto Rico Emergency Moratorium and Financial Rehabilitation Act (PREMFRA; Act 21 of
2016) empowers the governor of Puerto Rico to declare a fiscal state of emergency and a
moratorium on certain debt service payments that would extend to January 2017. That emergency
legislation, according to its preamble, was prompted by impending debt service payments. The
government’s fiscal agent, the Government Development Bank (GDB)—is due to pay $423
million at the beginning of May 2016—and the Commonwealth government itself—is due to pay
$1.9 billion at the beginning of July 2016.4
The GDB has faced serious liquidity issues in recent years. According to evidence released as
part of the Walmart case, a local banking regulator, the Puerto Rico Commissioner of Financial
Institutions, found that the GDB was insolvent in 2015. Senior GDB officials, however, contested
some claims of the Commissioner.5 Many, however, had considered it likely that a receiver could
take control of the GDB, which could complicate financial operations of the Commonwealth.6
The Puerto Rican government has reportedly moved accounts from the GDB to commercial
banks in order to avoid disruptions in public finances.7 On April 9, Governor García Padilla
1
Act 21 of 2016, http://www.oslpr.org/2013-2016/leyes/doc/ley-21-06-Abr-2016.doc at p. 49.
Walmart Puerto Rico Inc. v. Juan C. Zaragoza-Gomez, Secretary of the Puerto Rican Treasury, Opinion and Order,
March 28, 2016, case No. 3:15-CV-03018 (JAF), http://www.noticel.com/uploads/gallery/documents/
d7b90a9e684c342bffb267efc4dfadca.pdf.
3
“Puerto Rico está insolvente y la situación requiere un esfuerzo serio para encontrar una solución” (Puerto Rico is
insolvent and the situation requires serious efforts/sacrifices to reach a solution). Nydia Bauzá, “García Padilla
proclama que el gobierno está insolvente,” El Nuevo Dia, April 6, 2016, http://www.elnuevodia.com/noticias/locales/
nota/garciapadillaproclamaqueelgobiernoestainsolvente-2183623/. Translations in parentheses are the author’s.
4
See last page of Sergio Marxuach, “The Endgame: An Analysis of Puerto Rico’s Debt Structure and the Arguments in
Favor of Chapter 9,” Center for a New Economy working paper, November 30, 2015.
5
Walmart Puerto Rico Inc. v. Juan C. Zaragoza-Gomez, Secretary of the Puerto Rican Treasury, Opinion and Order,
March 28, 2016, p. 1. The regulator is the Puerto Rico Commissioner of Financial Institutions. Senior managers of the
GDP have contested some claims of the Commissioner, although the precarious state of the Bank is acknowledged.
6
Ibid. Also see Carlos Antonio Otero, “Pulseo con la Posible Sindicatura del BGF (Wrestling with the Possible GDB
Receivership),” El Vocero, March 30, 2016, http://elvocero.com/pulseo-con-la-posible-sindicatura-del-bgf/.
7
Eric Platt and Mary Childs, “Puerto Rico Opens Accounts at Commercial Bank to Sustain Services: Move Seen as
Quick Fix for Commonwealth’s Treasury and Public Agencies to Protect Themselves,” Financial Times, April 4, 2016.
2
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invoked authorities provided by the act to declare an emergency period for the GDB in order to
allow it to continue its operations.8
Restructuring the Government Development Bank
PREMFRA also allows the Governor, once emergency powers are invoked, to “take any and all
actions reasonable and necessary to allow the Bank [GDB or successor bank] to continue
performing its operations.”9 The Act also modifies legal provisions regarding the receivership of
the GDB, and allows for the establishment of a bridge bank that would assume many of the
responsibilities and assets of the GDB. A new public corporation, Puerto Rico Fiscal Agency and
Financial Advisory Authority, would assume the role of the island’s fiscal agent and financial
advisor. The act also includes a stay on legal actions against the Puerto Rican government while
emergency powers are invoked.10
A group of GDP bondholders filed a suit on April 4, 2016 in federal District Court in Puerto Rico
to halt transfers or other actions that would weaken further the financial condition of the GDB.11
A federal judge reportedly declined to issue a temporary restraining order, but required that the
GDB respond by April 15.12
Puerto Rico’s Fiscal Strategy
The Puerto Rican government has taken several measures over the past three years to address its
deteriorating fiscal situation. Those measures, however, appear to have delayed the current fiscal
emergency, but have been insufficient to put public finances on a sustainable path. The Puerto
Rican government, in formulating its fiscal strategy, has employed several high-profile
restructuring experts.13
Puerto Rican Restructuring Act
High costs of debt service and the precarious financial situation of some public corporations
prompted Governor García Padilla and the island’s legislature to enact a debt restructuring
legislation (Act 71) in June 2014 that would have allowed public corporations to file for debt
restructuring through legal structures set up within Puerto Rico.14 A U.S. District Court, however,
struck down Act 71 in February 2015, holding that a provision in chapter 9 of the U.S.
Bankruptcy Code15 preempts action by Puerto Rico, even though Puerto Rico is currently barred
8
Executive Order OE-2015-010, April 9, 2016. Executive orders issued by the Puerto Rican governor are available at
http://estado.pr.gov/en/executive-orders/.
9
Act 21 of 2016, http://www.oslpr.org/2013-2016/leyes/doc/ley-21-06-Abr-2016.doc at p. 55-56.
10
Act 21 of 2016, http://www.oslpr.org/2013-2016/leyes/doc/ley-21-06-Abr-2016.doc at p. 56.
11
Brigade Leveraged Capital Structures Fund, et al. v. GDB, Complaint 16-CV-1610, case 3:16-cv-01610, April 4,
2016, http://www.notiuno.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/Brigade-vs-GDB.pdf.
12
Luis J. Valentín, “Wait Continues On García Padilla To Restrict GDB’s Cash Outflows,” Caribbean Business, April
7, 2016.
13
Mark Tannenbaum and Martin Z. Braun, “Puerto Rico GDB Hires Millstein Unit as Financial Adviser,” Bloomberg,
March 6, 2014, http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2014-03-05/puerto-rico-gdb-hires-millstein-affiliate-asfinancial-adviser.
14
See CRS Legal Sidebar WSLG1289, Fiscal Distress in Puerto Rico: Two Legislative Approaches, by Carol A. Pettit.
15
11 U.S.C. §903.
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from authorizing its subunits to file under chapter 9.16 The U.S. Court of Appeals for the First
Circuit upheld that decision on July 6, 2015.17 The U.S. Supreme Court accepted an appeal and
heard oral arguments on March 22, 2016.18
Credit Ratings Downgrades and Loss of Market Access
In February 2014, the three major credit ratings agencies downgraded Puerto Rico’s public debt
to below investment grade.19 A second round of downgrades followed in late June 2014 after the
Puerto Rican government enacted Act 71, which sought to establish a restructuring process for
debt issued by the island’s public corporations.20 A further round of downgrades was triggered in
late June 2015 when Governor García Padilla said that the islands’ debts were unpayable.21 The
loss of investor confidence in Puerto Rico’s ability to repay its debts cut off access to credit
markets, which has intensified financial pressures on the government.22 Market traded prices for
existing Puerto Rican bonds trade well below levels recorded before the current fiscal crisis
emerged. Figure 1 shows trading prices for selected Puerto Rican bonds since January 2011. An
August 2013 Barron’s article highlighted the island’s weak fiscal position and high public debt.23
The first vertical line indicates when the Barron’s article appeared, and the second vertical line
indicates when Act 71 was enacted. The third vertical line is set at June 29, 2015, when Governor
García Padilla stated that “the debt is not payable” (see discussion below).
Concerns regarding the sustainability of Puerto Rico’s public finances have intensified over the
past year, despite several measures taken by the island’s government to reduce spending, increase
revenues, and restructure its obligations. Since mid-2013, serious concerns emerged in municipal
bond markets and among other observers regarding financial challenges facing Puerto Rico.
16
See CRS Legal Sidebar WSLG1370, First Circuit: Preemption Precludes Puerto Rico’s Recovery Act, by Carol A.
Pettit. The consolidated cases are Franklin California Tax-Free Trust v. Commonwealth of Puerto Rico and
BlueMountain Capital Management, LLC v. García-Padilla, (case 3:14-cv-01569). The February 6, 2015 opinion and
order is available at http://www.noticel.com/uploads/gallery/documents/ed648d7e7839c5b66e556b14d3c639b3.pdf.
17
Franklin California Tax-Free v. Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, No. 15-1218 (1st Cir. 2015), July 6, 2015,
http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-1st-circuit/1707047.html.
18
Lyle Denniston, “Court to Rule on Puerto Rico Debt-relief Options,” SCOTUSblog, Dec. 4, 2015,
http://www.scotusblog.com/2015/12/court-to-rule-on-puerto-rico-debt-relief-options/. See also
http://www.supremecourt.gov/Search.aspx?FileName=/docketfiles/15-233.htm.
19
Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, Consolidated Annual Financial Report for FY2013, June 30, 2013, note 22, pp. 230231, http://www.hacienda.gobierno.pr/downloads/pdf/cafr/FINANCIAL_REPORT_2013.pdf.
20
Ley para el Cumplimiento con las Deudas y para la Recuperación de las Corporaciones Públicas de Puerto Rico (Ley
71 de 2014; Act 71; Law Pursuant to the Debts and for the Recovery of the Public Corporations of Puerto Rico). See
also Moody’s Investor’s Service, “Puerto Rico’s Debt Restructuring Law Raises Default Risk for Public Corporations
and the Commonwealth,” July 3, 2013.
21
Reuters, “S&P Cuts Puerto Rico Rating, Says Default Seems Inevitable,” June 30, 2015, http://www.reuters.com/
article/2015/06/30/sp-puertorico-idUSL3N0ZG1UQ20150630. Moody’s Investors Service, “Moody’s Downgrades
Puerto Rico GOs and COFINA Sr Bonds to Caa3 from Caa2; Outlook Negative,” July 1, 2015.
22
Krueger, Teja, and Wolfe, op. cit., p. 1.
23
Andrew Bary, “Troubling Winds: Puerto Rico’s Huge Debt Could Overwhelm Attempts to Revive its Economy,”
Barron’s, August 26, 2013.
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Figure 1. Selected Puerto Rico Bonds; Dollar Prices Since January 2011
Source: CRS graph based on data from Electronic Municipal Market Access, Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board.
Notes: Legacy General Obligation bond is CUSIP 74514LYW1 (5.75%; 2041); NY law GO bond issued March 2014 is 74514LE86 (8.0%; 2035). COFINA Senior Note is CUSIP 74529JNX9
(5.25%; 2040); COFINA Subordinated Note is CUSIP 74529JHN8 (6.0%; 2042). Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority Revenue Bond is CUSIP 74526QVX7 (5.25%; 2040). First vertical line
indicates appearance of Barron’s article (August 20, 2013); second vertical line at enactment of Act 71 (July 28, 2014). Third vertical line is at June 29, 2015, when Governor García Padilla
stated that “the debt is not payable.” COFINA issues revenue anticipation securities to provide liquidity to the Puerto Rican government.
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Puerto Rico’s Current Fiscal Challenges
FY2016 Budget
The Puerto Rican legislature approved an FY2016 budget, which was then sent to the governor; it
reportedly set aside $1.5 billion for debt service costs. The governor signed the measure into law
on July 1, 2015.24 The budget calls for total outlays of $9.8 billion, with $4.2 billion in funding
for government operations.
Governor García Padilla had submitted an FY2016 budget that called for major decreases in
public spending, and aimed at achieving a balanced budget.25 The island’s lower chamber passed
a budget on June 22, 2015, and the Senate passed its version on June 25, 2015.26 A measure
reported by a conference committee was approved by both chambers on June 29, 2015.27 Senate
President Eduardo Bhatia was quoted as stating that “it is one of the most difficult budgets in the
history of Puerto Rico.”28
Whether the FY2016 budget for Puerto Rico would actually achieve a balanced budget is unclear.
The report of the ex-IMF economists stresses that the structural budget deficit, according to their
estimates, is larger than other measures of budget balance used by the Puerto Rican government.29
A structural budget deficit excludes effects of one-time budget adjustments or cyclical economic
effects. That report estimates annual interest and principal costs at $2.8 billion.
Puerto Rican Governor: Debt Unpayable
Puerto Rican policymakers then sought other ways to restructure or renegotiate the island’s public
debt. On June 29, 2015—a day before the end of Puerto Rico’s fiscal year 2015—Governor
García Padilla, stated during a televised address that “the debt is not payable.” The governor said
that his administration would seek concessions from the island’s creditors as part of a new fiscal
strategy.30 Governor García Padilla described the present fiscal crisis, enumerated structural
changes implemented or proposed by his administration, declared his intention to start a
negotiating process with creditors, and called on federal policymakers to change laws that treated
Puerto Rico differently than state governments.
24
Office of the Governor, “Gobernador Firma Presupuesto para el Año Fiscal 2015-2016 (Governor Signs Budget for
FY2016)”, press release, July 1, 2015, http://www.fortaleza.pr.gov/content/gobernador-firma-presupuesto-para-el-ofiscal-2015-2016.
25
“Puerto Rico Gov Files $9.8B Budget That Calls for Deep Cuts,” Associated Press, May 20, 2015,
http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2015/05/20/world/americas/ap-cb-puerto-rico-economy.html. See also the Puerto
Rican Governor’s Recommended Budget (Presupuesto Recomendado 2015-2016), http://www2.pr.gov/presupuestos/
Presupuesto2015-2016/Pages/default.aspx.
26
Michelle Kaske and Ezra Fieser, “Puerto Rico’s Senate Passes 2016 Budget in Preliminary Vote,” Bloomberg
Business, June 25, 2015, http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-06-25/puerto-rico-s-senate-approves-2016budget-in-preliminary-vote.
27
La Resolucións Conjunta de la Cámara 747 and 748. See El Nuevo Dia, “Ajustan Presupuesto Ante Escenario de
Renegociación de la Deuda,” June 30, 2015, http://www.elnuevodia.com/noticias/politica/nota/
ajustanpresupuestoanteescenarioderenegociaciondeladeuda-2066681/.
28
Luis J. Valentín, “Puerto Rico House, Senate Seek Consensus on Final Budget Plan,” Caribbean Business, June 28,
2015, http://www.caribbeanbusiness.pr/news/puerto-rico-house-senate-seek-consensus-on-final-budget-plan112726.html.
29
Anne O. Krueger, Ranjit Teja, and Andrew Wolfe, Puerto Rico: A Way Forward, June 29, 2015, pp. 11-12.
30
El Nuevo Dia, “Mensaje del Gobernador Alejandro García Padilla Sobre Situación Fiscal de Puerto Rico,” June 29,
2015, http://www.elnuevodia.com/noticias/politica/nota/
mensajedelgobernadoralejandrogarciapadillasobresituacionfiscaldepuertorico-2066574/.
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In particular, Governor García Padilla called for a comprehensive restructuring of Puerto Rico’s
fiscal obligations, arguing that the public debt had grown so large that it was impeding economic
growth as well as the island’s access to credit markets.31 The governor outlined a fiscal strategy
that included




reestablishment of economic growth through legislation to improve
competitiveness, a reform of social insurance programs, and investments in
infrastructure;
a call for a moratorium on debt payments;
creation of a working group for economic recovery composed of financial
experts and senior island policymakers; and
a long-term fiscal adjustment plan, to be developed by the working group by
August 30, 2015.
The fiscal adjustment plan, according to the governor, would propose reductions in public
outlays, improve tax administration, privatize some publicly provided services, improve
budgetary execution and controls, and create a nonpartisan fiscal commission, while guaranteeing
the provision of essential services. He also stated that new taxes or additional layoffs of public
employees were not being contemplated.32 The plan does include projected revenues from
implementation of tax measures already scheduled to go into effect.
On the same day, a report by three former International Monetary Fund (IMF) economists was
released that described serious problems with Puerto Rico’s fiscal situation, budget execution,
public administration, and tax structure.33
Economic and Fiscal Recovery Working Group Plan
Governor García Padilla also appointed an Economic and Fiscal Recovery Working Group34
comprised of senior executive and legislative policymakers. The Working Group issued a
framework plan on September 9, 2015, that outlined a strategy for putting the island’s finances on
a stable basis. The plan also outlined reforms to bolster long-term economic growth.35 The
working group’s plan includes various budgetary and structural economic reforms, as well as the
establishment of a control board. The proposed control board would be composed of experts from
Puerto Rico and elsewhere.
Puerto Rico, according to the working group, faces a $27.8 billion financing gap over the next
five years that could be reduced to $14 billion through fiscal measures and stronger economic
growth. Those gaps, according to the working group, “could severely impair the
31
El Nuevo Dia, “Mensaje del Gobernador Alejandro García Padilla Sobre Situación Fiscal de Puerto Rico,” June 29,
2015, http://www.elnuevodia.com/noticias/politica/nota/
mensajedelgobernadoralejandrogarciapadillasobresituacionfiscaldepuertorico-2066574/.
32
Office of the Governor (La Fortaleza), “Gobernador Ofrece Mensaje Sobre el Plan de Ajuste Fiscal (Governor Issues
Statement on the Plan of Fiscal Adjustment),” September 9, 2015, http://www.fortaleza.pr.gov/content/gobernadorofrece-mensaje-sobre-el-plan-de-ajuste-fiscal.
33
Anne O. Krueger, Ranjit Teja, and Andrew Wolfe, Puerto Rico: A Way Forward, June 29, 2015,
http://recend.apextech.netdna-cdn.com/docs/editor/Informe%20Krueger.pdf.
34
El Grupo de Trabajo para la Recuperación Fiscal y Económica de Puerto Rico.
35
Office of the Governor (La Fortaleza), “Grupo de trabajo divulga Plan Fiscal (Working Group Releases Fiscal
Plan),” September 9, 2015; http://www.fortaleza.pr.gov/content/grupo-de-trabajo-divulga-plan-fiscal. Full plan is
available at http://bgfpr.com/documents/PuertoRicoFiscalandEconomicGrowthPlan9.9.15.pdf.
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Commonwealth’s ability to provide essential services to its residents.”36 The Working Group
issued an updated plan on January 18, 2016, which estimated a 5-year (FY2016-FY2020) fiscal
gap of $16 billion and a 10-year (FY2016-FY2025) fiscal gap of $23 billion.37
Implementing recommendations of the working group may present serious challenges. The plan
calls on the U.S. Congress to make changes in several policy areas, such as the structure of
income support programs, reimbursement policies for federal health programs, federal labor and
public housing policies, and tax policy. Proposed reforms that would require approval by the
Puerto Rican legislature, such as labor code modifications, may prove controversial. Moreover,
austerity measures that may improve medium- or long-term fiscal stability may have adverse
short-term macroeconomic consequences.
Extraordinary Liquidity Measures Used in Late 2015 and Early 2016
An August 2015 financial liquidity analysis had projected that the government would likely run
out of money by November 2015.38 A number of extraordinary financial measures, however,
including delays in tax refunds, contractor payments, changes in pension funding, “clawbacks” of
public corporation funds to the general fund, among others, allowed the government to continue
its funding operations.39 Delayed tax refunds and contractor payments, however, have strained the
liquidity of many households and businesses. The Puerto Rican government also sought to delay
some bond payments in order to maintain liquidity and ensure continuity of government
operations. As of early April 2016, as noted above, the Governor of Puerto Rico and a federal
judge both had declared that the island’s government was insolvent.
First Default in August 2015
The Puerto Rican government at the beginning of August 2015 paid $0.63 million of $58 million
in interest and principal due on bonds issued by the Public Finance Corporation, a subsidiary of
the island’s Government Development Bank. Puerto Rico’s failure to make full payment on those
bonds, which carried a relatively weak “moral obligation” guarantee, has raised concerns about
future payments on bonds backed by general obligation guarantees.40
Loss of Credit Market Access Prevented Debt Roll-Overs
The island’s ability to meet debt service payments in recent years had depended in part on the
willingness of investors to roll over existing debt. Puerto Rico had planned to issue about $2.9
billion in bonds in 2015, but those plans were put on hold. The García Padilla Administration
reportedly wanted to prepare the way for that bond issue with a fiscal package consisting of a tax
36
Working Group for the Fiscal and Economic Recovery of Puerto Rico, Puerto Rico Fiscal and Economic Growth
Plan, September 9, 2015, http://www.fortaleza.pr.gov/content/gobernador-ofrece-mensaje-sobre-el-plan-de-ajustefiscal.
37
Working Group for the Fiscal and Economic Recovery of Puerto Rico, Puerto Rico Fiscal and Economic Growth
Plan: Update Presentation, January 18, 2016, http://www.gdb-pur.com/documents/
PRFEGPUpdatePresentation1.18.16-2.pdf.
38
Conway MacKenzie, Commonwealth of Puerto Rico: Liquidity Update, August 25, 2015, http://www.bgfpr.com/
documents/150825ConwayMacKenzieLiquidityUpdateReport.pdf.
39
Act 21 of 2016, http://www.oslpr.org/2013-2016/leyes/doc/ley-21-06-Abr-2016.doc at p. 52.
40
Standard & Poors, “Rating on Three Puerto Rico PFC Series Lowered to ‘D’ On Non-Payment,” RatingsDirect,
August 3, 2015, http://www.gdb-pur.com/investors_resources/documents/SP-RatingsDirectNews-Aug-03-2015.pdf.
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reform to bolster revenues, a balanced budget for FY2016, and a five-year plan to achieve fiscal
sustainability.41
Once Puerto Rico’s government was “virtually shut off from normal [credit] market access”
according to ex-IMF economists,42 funding government operations became increasingly difficult.
The Puerto Rican legislature passed a measure to allow certain public corporations to issue
revenue bonds, which may provide some measure of liquidity.43 The governor signed the measure
into law on July 3, 2015, clearing the way for the issuance of about $400 million in tax and
revenue anticipation notes (TRANs) by three publicly owned insurance corporations.44 While
those notes helped the Puerto Rican government maintain access to liquidity during the first part
of the fiscal year, some policymakers expressed concerns that adding exposure of those insurance
companies to governmental credit risks could harm their soundness.
Constitutional Limits on Borrowing are Close to Binding
Constitutional limits on Puerto Rico’s borrowing could also present financial hurdles. Puerto
Rico’s government debt servicing costs—apart from debt servicing costs of public corporations—
totaled 13.6% of average annual internal revenues for FY2014 and FY2015, not far below the
15% limit imposed by the Commonwealth’s Constitution.45 If that limit became binding,
maintaining operations of the government could then require either further fiscal adjustments or a
constitutional amendment, which would require supermajorities in both legislative chambers and
a plebiscite.
Structural Initiatives to Address Fiscal Challenges
Puerto Rico’s government has taken numerous steps over the past few years to realign revenues
and outlays, although those efforts have not closed the structural budget deficit. Those measures
include cutbacks to public pension systems, tax increases and tax administration reforms, and a
reduction in public sector employment.46 Figure 2 shows trends in public sector employment in
Puerto Rico since 1990. Since 2009, public sector employment has dropped by nearly a fifth.
41
The bonds would have been issued through the Puerto Rico Infrastructure Financing Authority (PRIFA). See Thomas
McLoughlin and Kristin Stephens, “Puerto Rico Credit & Market Update,” UBS Municipal Brief, December 15, 2014;
Robert Slavin, “Puerto Rico Gov. Lacks Budget for Annual Speech,” Bond Buyer, April 28, 2015, GDB, “Government
Development Bank for Puerto Rico Comments on Enactment of Act 29 of 2015,” March 17, 2015,
http://www.gdbpr.com/documents/GDBCommentonAmendment.pdf.
42
Krueger, Teja, and Wolfe, op. cit., p. 1.
43
Petición de la Camera 2542 was passed by both chambers on June 29, 2015.
44
Luis J. Valentín, “García Padilla Signs Bill to Raise $400M from Public Corporations, Suspend Monthly GO SetAsides,” Caribbean Business, July 3, 2015, http://www.caribbeanbusiness.pr/news/garcia-padilla-signs-bill-to-raise$400m-from-public-corporations-suspend-monthly-go-set-asides-113053.html. Also see Robert Slavin, “Puerto Rico
Governor Signs Cash and Spending Measure,” Bond Buyer, July 7, 2015, and Rebecca Banuchi, “Ajustan Presupuesto
Ante Escenario de Renegociación de la Deuda (Budget Altered Ahead of Proposed Renegotiation of the Debt),” El
Nuevo Dia, June 29, 2015, http://www.elnuevodia.com/noticias/politica/nota/
ajustanpresupuestoanteescenarioderenegociaciondeladeuda-2066681/.
45
GDB, Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, Financial Information and Operating Data Report, November 6, 2015, pp. 4748.
46
For a summary of previous initiatives, see Working Group for the Fiscal and Economic Recovery of Puerto Rico,
Puerto Rico Fiscal and Economic Growth Plan, September 9, 2015, p. 10.
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Some public employees retired early in 2013 and 2014 in order to mitigate effects of benefit
decreases resulting from pension reforms.47
Other fiscal austerity measures include reorganization of public school teaching staffs and school
closings, cancellation or postponement of salary and benefit increases, and reductions in transfers
to municipalities.48 The government has also taken steps to bolster the financial condition of its
public corporations.
Puerto Rico has modified its pension systems to increase future employee and employer
contributions, moved participants from defined benefit to defined contribution plans, and begun a
transition to higher retirement ages.49 The Supreme Court of Puerto Rico held that the
government’s rationale for the changes was insufficient to justify abrogation of certain contractual
rights of existing or retired teachers under the Teachers Retirement System. The court, however,
reaffirmed the government’s powers to modify certain aspects of pension programs in order to
meet pressing fiscal demands.50 Independent analysts note that funding ratios for the Puerto Rican
retirement systems remain low.51
On May 26, 2015, the Legislative Assembly passed and sent to the governor a measure to raise
the sales and use tax rate from 7% to 11.5%, which the governor signed into law on May 29,
2015.52 Of that rate, 1% is earmarked for local governments.53 In addition, the measure would
establish a Consumption Tax Transformation Alternatives Commission,54 which would be
charged with evaluating further changes in Puerto Rico’s tax system, including a possible
transition to a value-added tax (VAT). Previously, a proposal to replace certain sales taxes with a
value-added tax was voted down on April 30, 2015.55 Puerto Rico, as noted above, enacted Act 1
47
See Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, Quarterly Report, February 18, 2014, p. 16, http://www.gdbpr.com/documents/
QuarterlyReport2-18-2014.pdf.
48
Center for a New Economy, Fiscal Situation Update: Analysis of the Governor’s Budget Request for FY2015,
pp. 9-10.
49
Ellie Ismailidou and Maryellen Tighe, “Puerto Rico’s Pension Problem Treated on a Cash-flow Basis,” Debtwire,
July 25, 2014. See also Robert Slavin, “Puerto Rico Falters on Pensions,” Bond Buyer, September 26, 2014.
50
See John Mudd, “My Short Take on the Teachers Retirement Fund Opinion,” Muddlaw website, April 12, 2014,
http://johnmuddlaw.com/2014/04/12/my-short-take-on-the-teachers-retirement-fund-opinion/. The decision for the case
(Asociación de Maestros de PR, et al., v. Sistema de Retiro de Maestros de PR) is available at http://www.scribd.com/
doc/217729948/Sentencia-Retiro-Maestros.
51
Ismailidou and Tighe, ibid.
52
Act 72 of 2015.
53
Luis J. Valentín, “Tax Bill Approved by Legislature, Awaits Governor’s Signature,” Caribbean Business, May 27,
2015, http://www.caribbeanbusinesspr.com/news/tax-bill-approved-by-legislature-awaits-governors-signature110958.html. The sales and use tax is also known as IVU, an acronym of Impuesto de Ventas y Uso. Also see Ernst &
Young, “Puerto Rico Enacts Income Tax and Other Changes as Part of FY2016 Budget,” Global Tax Alert, June 8,
2015, http://www.ey.com/GL/en/Services/Tax/International-Tax/Alert—Puerto-Rico-enacts-income-tax-and-otherchanges-as-part-of-FY2016-budget.
54
Comisión de Alternativas para Transformar el Impuesto al Consumo (CATIC).
55
Ibid. and Gustavo Vélez, “La Nueva Ruta Sin el IVA (The New Path Without the VAT),” blog post, May 5, 2015,
http://www.economiapr.com/la-nueva-ruta-sin-el-iva/. Also see Ernst and Young, “Puerto Rico House of
Representatives Votes Down Proposed VAT Bill by Narrow Margin,” May 7, 2015; also see http://www.ey.com/
Publication/vwLUAssets/
Puerto_Rico_House_of_Representatives_votes_down_proposed_VAT_bill_by_narrow_margin/$FILE/
2015G_CM5431_Indirect_PR%20House%20of%20Representatives%20votes%20down%20proposed%20VAT%20bill
%20by%20narrow%20margin.pdf. The measure was House Bill 2329 (Para crear la “Ley de Transformación al
Sistema Contributivo del Estado Libre Asociado de Puerto Rico” (For the creation of a Law for the Transformation of
the Contributive System of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico).
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Puerto Rico’s Current Fiscal Challenges
on January 15, 2015, which raised petroleum taxes, contingent on implementation of broader tax
changes, and took other measures to strengthen the financial condition of the Authority for
Highways and Transportation.56
Figure 2. Government Employment in Puerto Rico, 1990-2016
Thousands of Persons, Seasonally Adjusted
Source: Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, series SMS72000009000000001.
Notes: Vertical axis scaled to show variation as clearly as possible. Y-axis begins at 225,000 persons.
Fiscal Challenges Have Been Building for Years
Puerto Rico has faced fiscal challenges ever since the mid-1970s. The economic effects of the
1973-1974 energy crisis, which caused serious dislocation to the mainland economy, had even
more severe consequences for Puerto Rico.57
Debt Accumulation over Time
Once Puerto Rico was able to recommence borrowing in the 1980s, its public debt grew steadily
and is now slightly larger than the island’s gross national product (GNP).58 Debt accumulation
56
Eduardo San Miguel Tió, “Puerto Rico Governor Signs Petroleum-tax Increase into Law,” Caribbean Business,
January 15, 2015, http://www.caribbeanbusiness.pr/news/puerto-rico-governor-signs-petroleum-tax-increase-into-law103300.html. The act also authorizes certain bond issues. Text of the law is available at http://www.oslpr.org/
legislatura/tl2013/tl_medida_print2.asp?r=P%20C2212&ult=1.
57
U.S. Department of State, Office of the Historian, Oil Embargo, 1973-1974, October 31, 2013;
https://history.state.gov/milestones/1969 -1976/oil-embargo. Even before the oil embargo started in October 1973,
Puerto Rico’s power utility was affected by a strike that began on January 4, 1973, signaling the start of a more
contentious labor relationship. See Unión de Trabajadores de la Industria Eléctrica y Riego (UTIER), Breve Reseña
Histórica de la UTIER; http://www.utier.org/estructuras/historia.php.
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Puerto Rico’s Current Fiscal Challenges
accelerated in the early 2000s, as expenditure growth outstripped revenues. Figure 3 shows
outlays and revenues for Puerto Rico since 1970.
Figure 3. Per Capita General Fund Outlays & Revenues
1970-2016, inflation-adjusted (base-2014)
Source: CRS calculations based on Puerto Rico financial reports (via Carlos Costas de Armas); Apéndice
Estadísticos for various years; CPI deflator from Departamento del Trabajo y Recursos Humanos/Puerto Rico
Dept. of Labor and Human Resources.
Notes: Levels for FY2015 and FY2016 reflect budget proposals.
Figure 4 shows the accumulation of Puerto Rico’s gross public debt in inflation-adjusted terms
since 1962.59 By that measure, total debt levels rose until the mid-1970s, then declined gradually
until the mid-1980s, after which they again increased until 2013. Puerto Rico’s public sector debt
stood at $69.9 billion at the end of September 2015.60 Figure 4 also indicates that public
corporations have accounted for the largest portion of public sector debt in recent decades.
(...continued)
58
Puerto Rico’s gross public debt was reported at $72.2 billion at the end of March 2015. See GDB, Commonwealth
Quarterly Financial Report, May 7, 2015, p.56; http://www.gdb-pur.com/documents/CommonwealthQR-5-7-15.pdf.
Also see Statistical Appendix (Apéndice Estadístico) of the Economic Report to the Governor and the Legislature for
FY2014, http://www.jp.gobierno.pr/Portal_JP/Default.aspx?tabid=184.
59
A congressional distribution memorandum on the structure of Puerto Rico’s debt is available upon request.
60
GDB, Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, Financial Information and Operating Data Report, November 6, 2015, p. 119;
http://www.bgfpr.com/documents/CommonwealthReport11-06-15.pdf.
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Figure 4. Gross Public Debt of Puerto Rico in Billions of Constant Dollars, 1960-2014
Source: Statistical Appendix (Apéndice Estadístico), various years; available at http://www.jp.gobierno.pr/Portal_JP/
Default.aspx?tabid=184.
Notes: Data represent gross public debt of Puerto Rico as of June 30 of each year, provided by the Government
Development Bank of Puerto Rico. Figures for 1989 and 2014 are preliminary estimates. The Highway and
Transportation Authority and the University of Puerto Rico are included in the Commonwealth Government
subtotal. The U.S. GDP price index is used to adjust levels for inflation. These debt data differ from those
available from other sources.
Public Corporations Incurred Much of Puerto Rico’s Public Debt
Public corporations, which have played a prominent role in the Puerto Rican economy since the
1930s, are closely linked to the island’s fiscal challenges. Some 50 public corporations serve a
broad variety of purposes and activities, ranging from public infrastructure, banking, real estate,
insurance, industrial development, health care, transportation, electric power, broadcasting,
education, arts, and tourism, among others.61 Some public corporations resemble public
authorities of state governments, although in some cases, have responsibilities more akin to
public agencies.
61
For one listing of public corporations, see Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, Budget Proposal for 2013-2014,
Consolidated Budget by Agency for FY2011-FY2014 (Estado Libre Asociado de Puerto Rico, Presupuesto
Recomendado 2013-2014, Presupuesto Consolidado por Agencia), http://www2.pr.gov/presupuestos/Presupuesto20132014/Tablas%20Estadsticas/04.pdf.
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Puerto Rico’s Current Fiscal Challenges
Off-budget debt issued by public corporations, generally not included in the 15% debt servicing
limit, has accounted for much of the buildup in Puerto Rico’s public debt since 2000 (see Figure
4).62 Moreover, the central government’s financial support for public corporations has weakened
its own fiscal situation. In particular, credit and liquidity support provided via the GDB to public
corporations was a major factor in the insolvency of the GDB, as noted above.63
Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority
The Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA; in Spanish, the Autoridad de Energía
Eléctrica or AEE), one of Puerto Rico’s oldest public corporations, owes over $9 billion—or
about one-eighth of Puerto Rico’s total public sector debt. PREPA entered into a restructuring and
forbearance agreement in August 2014 with major creditors64 prompted by the need to maintain
sufficient financing for fuel purchases.65 Lisa Donahue, a partner in energy management
consultancy, was appointed Chief Restructuring Officer (CRO) in September 2015 as part of that
agreement.
The August 2014 forbearance agreement has been extended numerous times, as negotiations
between PREPA and major creditor groups—including mutual funds, bond insurers, hedge funds,
and others—have proceeded. PREPA issued a summary of a restructuring plan on June 1, 2015,
which calls for $2.3 billion to modernize its operations and stabilize its finances.66 On September
1, 2015, PREPA announced a preliminary agreement with certain creditors to restructure part of
the utility’s debt, including bond exchange that would include a 15% writedown of non-insured
debt.67 A tentative agreement was reached in mid-December 2015 between PREPA and holders of
about 70% of PREPA’s debt. Fulfillment of the agreement was contingent on passage of a PREPA
Revitalization Act by the Puerto Rico legislature and participation of additional debtholders. How
measures to restructure PREPA’s debt and revitalize its operations would affect energy reforms
adopted in 2014 (Act 57 of 2014), and the powers of the Energy Commission established as part
of those reforms, have raised concerns. Puerto Rico enacted a PREPA Revitalization Act (Act 4 of
2016) on February 16, 2016.68 The act creates a “transition” surcharge that will be added to
consumer bills to help PREPA meet its financial obligations.
62
See FY2013 Economic Report to the Governor, Statistical Appendix, Table 29, http://www.gdbpr.com/economy/
documents/AE2013_T29.pdf.
63
Act 21 of 2016; http://www.oslpr.org/2013-2016/leyes/doc/ley-21-06-Abr-2016.doc at p. 50. Also see Arturo C.
Porzecanski, “The Government Development Bank: At the Heart of Puerto Rico’s Financial Crisis,” American
University working paper, September 18, 2014, http://nw08.american.edu/~aporzeca/
The%20GDB%20at%20the%20Heart%20of%20Puerto%20Ricos%20Financial%20Crisis.pdf.
64
Government Development Bank, Forbearance Agreement: Executive Version, August 14, 2014,
http://www.gdbpr.com/documents/BondholderForbearanceAgreementEXECUTED.pdf.
65
Mary Williams Walsh, “Puerto Rico Power Supplier Saved From Cash Squeeze,” New York Times, August 14, 2014.
Reuters, “Puerto Rico Power Authority Weighs Financing Options as Bank Deadline Nears,” July 30, 2014,
http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/07/30/usa-puertorico-prepa-idUSL2N0Q52GQ20140730.
66
PREPA, “PREPA’s Transformation” A Path to Sustainability,” June 1, 2015, http://www.aeepr.com/Docs/
RecoveryPlan.pdf. Also see Michelle Kaske, “PREPA Submits Recovery Plan as Creditors Say Talks Continue,”
Bloomberg Business, June 1, 2015 (updated June 2, 2015). Financial details of the restructuring plan were withheld
pending negotiations with creditors.
67
Robert Slavin, “PREPA, Forbearing Bondholders Reach Agreement on Restructuring,” Bond Buyer, September 2,
2015. Also see Janney Fixed Income, “PREPA Restructuring,” September 3, 2015.
68
Official text (in Spanish) is at http://www2.pr.gov/ogp/Bvirtual/leyesreferencia/PDF/Energ%C3%ADa/4-2016/42016.pdf.
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Puerto Rico’s Current Fiscal Challenges
PREPA faces major financial and operational challenges. Chief Restructuring Officer Lisa
Donahue testified that PREPA could run out of cash in the summer of 2016, which could lead to
operational disruptions.69 The utility’s existing oil- and diesel-fired plants are old, inefficient, and
unreliable.70 Oil and diesel accounts for about two-thirds of PREPA’s fuel. While heavy
dependence on oil-based power generation is typical for Caribbean electrical systems, the lack of
sufficient modern gas-fired power generation capacity to handle fluctuations in base loads limits
the potential of renewable energy on the island.71 While falling oil prices led to some reductions
in PREPA’s prices, recent residential electricity prices have been about 50% above average
mainland rates, and commercial rates nearly twice as high, which may have hinder economic
growth.72
PREPA’s revenues have been reduced by unbilled power generation.73 In recent years, 14% of
power generated by PREPA was classified as lost or unaccounted for. In addition, PREPA had not
been billing many municipalities and government offices, in part to offset payments to those
entities in lieu of taxation.74 PREPA has also been mandated to subsidize certain non-profit
organization and business sectors.75 In total, PREPA provided $69 million worth of subsidized
power in FY2014, according to press accounts.76 PREPA has, however, become more aggressive
in collecting its accounts receivable.77
Government Development Bank for Puerto Rico
The Government Development Bank for Puerto Rico, one of the oldest public corporations,
serves as bank, fiscal agent, and financial advisor to the Commonwealth and other public
corporations.78 The GDB and its subsidiaries are the main source of short-term financing for the
69
Testimony of Lisa Donahue, Chief Restructuring Officer of PREPA, in U.S. Congress, House Committee on Natural
Resources, Subcommittee On Energy And Mineral Resources, “Exploring Energy Challenges and Opportunities Facing
Puerto Rico,” January 12, 2016, http://naturalresources.house.gov/uploadedfiles/testimony_donahue.pdf.
70
PREPA, “PREPA’s Transformation” A Path to Sustainability,” June 1, 2015. Also see U.S. Department of Energy,
Energy Information Administration, Puerto Rico Territory Energy Profile, updated April 16, 2015,
http://www.caribbeanbusiness.pr/prnt_ed/u.s.-supreme-court-suspends-the-epas-mats-regulations-11402.html.
71
National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Energy Policy and Sector Analysis in the Caribbean (2010–2011),
Organization of American States, http://www.ecpamericas.org/data/files/Initiatives/lccc_caribbean/
LCCC_Report_Final_May2012.pdf.
72
U.S. Department of Energy, “Puerto Rico Territory Energy Profile,” updated January 16, 2016, http://www.eia.gov/
state/print.cfm?sid=RQ.
73
For a description of subsidies and discounts, see “Estructura Tarifaria Autoridad de Energía Eléctrica (PREPA’s Rate
Structure),” May 19, 2015, pp. 3-4, http://aeepr.com/Docs/Ley57/
Presentacion%20Tarifas%20para%20Pagina%20AEE%20Internet%20-%2005-19-2015.pdf. One Puerto Rican
municipality, according to news reports, operates a skating rink using electricity provided without charge by PREPA.
See Mary Williams Walsh, “How Free Electricity Helped Dig $9 Billion Hole in Puerto Rico,” New York Times,
February 1, 2016.
74
Mesirow Financial, ibid.
75
Carmelo Ruiz-Marrero, “Debt and Dirty Energy Weigh Heavy on Puerto Rico’s Utility,” Inter Press Service, April
28, 2014, http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/debt-dirty-energy-weigh-heavy-puerto-ricos-utility/.
76
“PREPA Doesn’t Rule Out Rate Hikes,” Caribbean Business, August 11, 2014,
http://www.caribbeanbusinesspr.com/news/prepa-doesnt-rule-out-rate-hikes-99473.html.Article cites testimony of
PREPA Executive Director Juan Alicea to the Puerto Rican Senate Committee on Energy Affairs.
77
Testimony of Lisa Donahue, Chief Restructuring Officer of PREPA, in U.S. Congress, House Committee on Natural
Resources, Subcommittee On Energy And Mineral Resources, “Exploring Energy Challenges and Opportunities Facing
Puerto Rico,” January 12, 2016; http://naturalresources.house.gov/uploadedfiles/testimony_donahue.pdf.
78
Government Development Bank for Puerto Rico, The GDB: Seven Decades of Service to Puerto Rico (1942-2012),
http://www.gdb-pur.com/about-gdb/history_01.html.
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Puerto Rico’s Current Fiscal Challenges
Puerto Rican government and its public corporations and municipalities. The GDB also issues
loans and guarantees to private entities and has historically played a leading role in strategic
economic investments for Puerto Rico.
During the 1990s and 2000s, the GDB was used to finance investments and even operating costs
of other parts of the Puerto Rican government. By June 2013—the date of the last audited
financial statement—the public sector accounted for nearly all of the GDB’s loan portfolio, which
amounted to 48% of its government-wide assets.79 Credit rating agencies and government
financial reports have warned that the restructuring of Puerto Rico’s public debt presents serious
financial risks to the GDB.80
At the beginning of August 2015, Puerto Rico did not make a full interest and principal payment
due on bonds issued by the Public Finance Corporation, a subsidiary of the island’s GDB.81 In
late March 2016, as noted above, a federal District Court judge unveiled a 2015 finding of the
Puerto Rico Commissioner of Financial Institutions that the GDP was insolvent in 2015. While
GDP officials have disputed some claims of the Commissioner, it is widely believed that the GDP
will be unable to meet a May 1, 2016 debt service payment of $423 million.82 The Puerto Rico
government has taken steps, noted in the introduction to this report, to shift responsibilities and
assets of the GDB to other institutions in order to avoid the consequences of having the island
government’s fiscal agent come under the control of a receiver.
Other Public Corporations
Independent analysts argue that a few other large public corporations are insolvent.83 Island
officials, however, have emphasized that the financial condition of various government entities
differs in important ways.84
The Highways and Transportation Authority (HTA; or in Spanish, Autoridad de Carreteras y
Transportación) has faced serious financial challenges. For instance, cost overruns on the Tren
Urbano project in San Juan, constructed between 1996 and 2005, nearly doubled costs (from an
initial estimate $1.25 billion to a final $2.4 billion).85 In addition, HTA has been running
operating deficits of about a half a billion dollars in recent years, which has required substantial
support from other parts of the Puerto Rico government such as the GDB.86 At the end of
79
GDP, Comprehensive Annual Financial Report 2013, June 30, 2013, note 7; http://www.bgfpr.com/documents/GDBCAFR-June-30-2013.pdf. Also see Arturo C. Porzecanski, “The Government Development Bank: At the Heart of
Puerto Rico’s Financial Crisis,” American University working paper, September 18, 2014, http://nw08.american.edu/
~aporzeca/The%20GDB%20at%20the%20Heart%20of%20Puerto%20Ricos%20Financial%20Crisis.pdf.
80
Moody’s Investor’s Service, “Puerto Rico’s Debt Restructuring Law Raises Default Risk for Public Corporations and
the Commonwealth,” July 3, 2013. See also GDB, Commonwealth Quarterly Financial Report, July 17, 2014, pp. 4-5,
http://www.gdb-pur.com/documents/CommonwealthQuarterlyReport71714.pdf.
81
Standard & Poors, “Rating on Three Puerto Rico PFC Series Lowered to ‘D’ On Non-Payment,” RatingsDirect,
August 3, 2015, http://www.gdb-pur.com/investors_resources/documents/SP-RatingsDirectNews-Aug-03-2015.pdf.
82
Other amounts have been reported for that payment.
83
Center for a New Economy, Fiscal Situation Update, FY2014-2015 Budget, June 2014.
84
Government Development Bank, “Statement from Government Development Bank for Puerto Rico on
Announcement of Upcoming Offering by Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Authority,” August 11, 2015,
http://www.gdbpr.com/documents/StatementfromGDBonPRASAoffering.pdf.
85
U.S. Department of Transportation Inspector General, Audit of the Tren Urbano Rail Transit Project, Federal Transit
Administration Report Number: MH-2004-098, September 29, 2004; https://www.oig.dot.gov/sites/default/files/
mh2004098.pdf. Also see GDB, Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, Financial Information and Operating Data Report,
November 6, 2015, pp. 201-203.
86
Ibid.
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Puerto Rico’s Current Fiscal Challenges
December 2012, HTA owed the GDB $2.2 billion, which it lacked the means to pay.87 On January
15, 2015, Puerto Rico enacted a tax on petroleum products (Act 1 of 2015) intended to provide
HTA with funds to repay its debts, among other aims.88
The island government has contended that the financial situation of the Puerto Rico Aqueduct &
Sewer Authority (PRASA; in Spanish, Autoridad de Acueductos y Alcantarillados or AAA) has
improved due to increases in water rates, although investors have remained skeptical.89 PRASA
had planned to issue $750 million in new revenue bonds by the end of August 2015, but those
plans were postponed indefinitely once the Puerto Rican Governor declared the island’s public
debts to be unpayable.90 Issuing those bonds would have helped PRASA pay arrears due
contractors and make bond payments to the GDB, along with providing funding for infrastructure
improvements, including some mandated by a consent decree with the U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency.91 The Puerto Rican Assembly passed a revitalization bill (P.C. 2786) for
PRASA along the lines of PREPA’s revitalization act, which would create a customer surcharge to
support debt service for three years.92 A severe drought affecting much of the island in 2015 also
affected PRASA operations.93
Fiscal Strategy and Outmigration
The precarious state of Puerto Rico’s public finances stems in part from prolonged economic
weakness. Economic growth was sluggish even before the 2007-2009 recession, and official
forecasts project continued slow growth. Previous economic analyses of Puerto Rico’s economy
have pointed to low employment and labor participation rates, an economic structure shaped more
by tax advantages than comparative advantages, and intensified global competition.94
87
Preamble, Act 1 of 2015, http://www.lexjuris.com/lexlex/Leyes2015/lexl2015001.htm.
The Puerto Rican government had intended to use the petroleum products tax, known in Spanish as “la crudita,” to
support an issue of $2.95 billion in bonds by the Puerto Rico Infrastructure Financing Authority (PRIFA), which would
then assume certain debts of the HTA. That bond sale was suspended, however, due to adverse market conditions.
89
Michelle Kaske, “Puerto Rico Optimistic About Bond Sale as Buyer Doubts Increase,” Bloomberg Business, August
26, 2015.
90
Luis J. Valentín, “PRASA files for $750M in New Bonds,” Caribbean Business, August 11, 2015,
http://www.caribbeanbusinesspr.com/news/prasa-files-for-$750m-in-new-bonds-115012.html. Also see Government
Development Bank, “Statement from Government Development Bank for Puerto Rico on Announcement of Upcoming
Offering by Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Authority,” August 11, 2015, http://www.gdbpr.com/documents/
StatementfromGDBonPRASAoffering.pdf.
91
NotiUno News, “CIAPR Reclama Pago de Deuda de la AAA a Sus Colegiados (College of Engineers and Surveyors
Calls for Payment of Debts of PRASA),” September 18, 2015; http://www.notiuno.com/ciapr-reclama-pago-de-deudade-la-aaa-a-sus-colegiados/. See also Consent Decree, U.S.A v. PRASA, in re 01-1709(JAF), March 13, 2003;
http://www2.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2013-09/documents/prasacd.pdf. For information on other compliance
issues, see GDB, Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, Financial Information and Operating Data Report, November 6,
2015, pp. 198-201.
92
Luis J. Valentín, “PRASA Maneuvers Through Revitalization Maze,” Caribbean Business, February 25, 2016;
http://cb.pr/prasas-labyrinth/. Legislative text of the measure is at http://www.oslpr.org/2013-2016/%7B4FCEE3DB161D-4669-9636-0150D96C758E%7D.doc.
93
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Centers for Environmental Information, Drought
Annual 2015, January 13, 2016, https://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/sotc/drought/201513#pr-sect.
94
Barry Bosworth and Susan M. Collins, “Economic Growth,” in Susan M. Collins, Barry P. Bosworth, and Miguel A.
Soto-Class, eds., The Economy of Puerto Rico: Restoring Growth (Brookings: Washington, DC, 2006), pp. 17-81;
Federal Reserve Bank of New York, Report on the Competitiveness of Puerto Rico’s Economy, 2012. Available in
English at http://www.newyorkfed.org/regional/puertorico/index.html.
88
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Those trends and associated economic challenges have prompted many Puerto Ricans to move to
the U.S. mainland, leading to population decline of about 1% per year over the past decade.
Figure 5 shows estimated trends for Puerto Rico’s resident population since 1950.
Figure 5. Puerto Rico Resident Population Trends
Estimates from 1950 through 2014
Source: U.S. Census Bureau, World Bank, and Government Development Bank.
Note: U.S. Census Bureau population estimates are for July 1 of each year.
One study estimated that a third of those born on Puerto Rico now reside on the mainland and
found that migrants tended to be younger and less well educated compared to island population
averages.95 Economic growth depends on productivity and the availability of resources such as
capital and labor. By reducing the amount of labor available to the island economy, outmigration
poses risks to future economic growth. Moreover, outmigration serves as a signal that some island
residents perceive that the mainland presents more attractive economic opportunities. Some
Puerto Ricans who migrate to the mainland later return to the island. Since the mid-1990s, the
number of those moving to the mainland has trended upwards, whereas the number of those
returning to Puerto Rico has not shown a distinct trend.96
95
Jaison R. Abel and Richard Deitz, “Population Lost: Puerto Rico’s Troubling Out-Migration,” Liberty Street
Economics, New York Federal Reserve Bank, April 13, 2015, http://libertystreeteconomics.newyorkfed.org/2015/04/
population-lost-puerto-ricos-troubling-out-migration.html.
96
Samuel M. Otterstrom and Benjamin F. Tillman, “Income Change and Circular Migration: The Curious Case of
Mobile Puerto Ricans, 1995-2010,” Journal of Latin American Geography, vol. 12, no. 3 (2013), pp. 33-57.
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Puerto Rico’s Current Fiscal Challenges
Potential Issues for Congress
Possible options for Congress to address the fiscal distress faced by the government of Puerto
Rico and its constituent public corporations are framed by the island’s status as a territory—
something different than a state and different from an independent sovereign country.97 The
federal government has generally been reluctant to offer direct financial assistance to individual
states in fiscal distress, although Congress at times has adjusted technical parameters of federal
programs to provide direct or indirect support for states.98 The independence of state governments
to set their own fiscal paths has been linked to an expectation that those governments take
responsibility for the consequences of their fiscal decisions. In some other fiscal systems, a
central government’s willingness to cover shortfalls by state governments has been seen as having
led to less prudent fiscal behavior. Central governments in some federal systems provide
subnational governments with more support, but impose more intrusive fiscal controls.
The report of the former IMF economists was framed in terms familiar to typical IMF
interventions, in which short-term bridge financing is provided conditional on agreements with
governments to address structural economic issues over a longer term.99 Congressional options
might thus be divided between strategies to address imminent liquidity challenges, such as
providing credit support or altering bankruptcy laws, and strategies intended to promote
economic growth over the longer term.
Administration Proposals
The U.S. Treasury Department proposed a framework in October 2015 that called on Congress to
pass legislation to “provide the critical tools Puerto Rico needs to restructure its debt, enhance its
fiscal governance, fix its healthcare system, and help jumpstart its economy.”100 The Obama
Administration had earlier indicated that it is not contemplating a federal bailout of Puerto Rico,
but provided technical support and has sought to make existing federal resources available.101
President Obama’s FY2017 budget plan called for a “broad legal framework” that would allow
Puerto Rico’s public debt to be restructured and would provide for fiscal oversight for the
island.102
Credit Support
Central governments and international organizations have at times stepped in to backstop debts of
other governments to lower those governments’ borrowing costs. Such support typically has been
linked to budgetary or structural reform requirements. For example, the European Central Bank in
2011 acted to support debt offered by Eurozone countries, which dramatically lowered borrowing
97
See CRS In Focus IF10241, Puerto Rico: Political Status and Background, by R. Sam Garrett; or CRS Report
R42765, Puerto Rico’s Political Status and the 2012 Plebiscite: Background and Key Questions, by R. Sam Garrett.
98
Jonathan A. Rodden, Hamilton’s Paradox: The Promise and Peril of Fiscal Federalism (New York: Cambridge,
2006). The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA; P.L. 111-5) included support for state governments and
territories.
99
Anne O. Krueger, Ranjit Teja, and Andrew Wolfe, Puerto Rico: A Way Forward, June 29, 2015, pp. 25-26.
100
U.S. Treasury Department, “Addressing Puerto Rico’s Economic and Fiscal Crisis and Creating a Path to Recovery:
Roadmap for Congressional Action,” October 21, 2015.
101
White House Press Briefing, June 29, 2015, http://www.c-span.org/video/?326821-1/white-house-briefing.
102
Reuters, “Puerto Rico Could Restructure Debts, Boost Healthcare Under Obama Budget,” February 9, 2016,
http://www.reuters.com/article/us-obama-budget-puertorico-idUSKCN0VI29H.
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costs of countries that could have faced severe liquidity challenges.103 The U.S. government
provided credit guarantees for the Mexican government in 1994-1995.104 The U.S. government
also provided indirect credit support for many state government agencies through the Depressionera Reconstruction Finance Corporation (RFC). For instance, in 1941 the RFC acted as an
intermediary to roll over $136 million in debt for the State of Arkansas.105 In the early decades of
the 20th century, the U.S. government took an expansive role in addressing debts of Caribbean and
Central American countries.106
Federal Health and Income Support Programs
Reimbursement and eligibility rules for federal entitlement programs in Puerto Rico often differ
from those in effect on the mainland.107 For example, funding for the federal portion of Medicaid
is capped for U.S. territories, but is open-ended for states.108 The federal matching rate for
Medicaid ranges from 50% for states with the highest per capita income to 74% for the state with
the lowest per capita income, while the matching rate for Puerto Rico is set at 55%.109 Congress
could revise Medicaid matching fund formulas or eligibility standards. It could also modify
reimbursement rules or enrollment standards under Medicare, or adjust rules governing other
federal programs, such as the income support programs. Resident Commissioner Pierluisi
introduced several bills (H.R. 1225, H.R. 1417, H.R. 1418, H.R. 1822, H.R. 2635) in the 114th
Congress to modify federal health and income support programs to provide additional resources
to Puerto Rico.
Restructuring and Bankruptcy
Under current law, Puerto Rico is generally considered a state for most provisions of the
Bankruptcy Code; but it is explicitly excluded from that definition for purposes of determining
those eligible to file under chapter 9, which sets out a process for consideration of debt relief
requests of instrumentalities of state governments.110 Thus, subunits of Puerto Rico, such as
public corporations, are barred from filing under chapter 9.
The restructuring law that Puerto Rico enacted in June 2014, which was in part motivated by the
financial situation of PREPA and other public corporations, was established with the aim of
providing an alternative to processes provided by the Bankruptcy Code. That law, however, was
struck down by a U.S. District Court.111 On July 6, 2015, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First
103
CRS Report R42377, The Eurozone Crisis: Overview and Issues for Congress, coordinated by Rebecca M. Nelson .
104
Joseph A. Whitt, Jr., “The Mexican Peso Crisis,” Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta Economic Review,
January/February 1996, https://www.frbatlanta.org/filelegacydocs/J_whi811.pdf.
105
Jesse H. Jones, Fifty Billion Dollars: My Thirteen Years with the RFC (New York: Macmillan, 1951), p. 179.
106
For a summary, see Faisal Z. Ahmed, Laura Alfaro, and Noel Maurer, “Lawsuits and Empire: On the Enforcement
of Sovereign Debt in Latin America,” Law and Contemporary Problems, vol. 79, no. 4 (2010), pp. 39-46.
107
See CRS Report R44275, Puerto Rico and Health Care Finance: Frequently Asked Questions, coordinated by
Annie L. Mach.
108
Medicaid is a joint federal-state program that provides access to health care for low-income persons and includes
some long-term health care benefits.
109
CRS Report R43847, Medicaid’s Federal Medical Assistance Percentage (FMAP), FY2016, by Alison Mitchell. The
maximum statutory matching rate is 83%. Mississippi has the highest matching rate (74.17%).
110
11 U.S.C. §101(52). Also see CRS Legal Sidebar WSLG1289, Fiscal Distress in Puerto Rico: Two Legislative
Approaches, by Carol A. Pettit.
111
The consolidated cases are Franklin California Tax-Free Trust v. Commonwealth of Puerto Rico and BlueMountain
(continued...)
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Circuit affirmed the lower court’s ruling that federal bankruptcy provisions112 preempted Puerto
Rico’s ability to employ its own restructuring law.113
Congress could amend the Bankruptcy Code to permit Puerto Rico to allow its municipalities
(which include instrumentalities and subdivisions of the territory) to enter into chapter 9 and
proceed with a well-established process for restructuring public debts. To that end, Resident
Commissioner Pierluisi introduced H.R. 870 on March 16, 2015.114 Senator Blumenthal
introduced a similar measure (S. 1774) on July 15, 2015. Representative Pelosi introduced Puerto
Rico Emergency Financial Stability Act of 2015 (H.R. 4290) on December 18, 2015, a measure to
stay litigation related to the island’s public debts, which could provide further time for
negotiations between Puerto Rico and its creditors. Senator Warren introduced a companion
measure, the Puerto Rico Emergency Financial Stability Act of 2015 (S. 2336), in the Senate on
the same day.
Governor García Padilla has also called for giving Puerto Rico access to chapter 9.115 Treasury
Secretary Lew has also expressed support for allowing Puerto Rico to access chapter 9.116 Some
hedge funds and other holders of Puerto Rican bonds, however, have opposed including the island
in chapter 9.117 Interests of hedge funds with major holdings of general obligation (GO) bonds,
however, may differ from those of funds holding bonds of the island’s public corporations that are
not secured by a general obligation of the Puerto Rican government.118
Access to chapter 9 might provide limited relief from debt burdens, as the central government of
Puerto Rico—like state governments—would presumably be unable to file for bankruptcy relief
itself. As Figure 4 indicates, a substantial portion of the island’s debt was issued by the central
government. Public corporations issued the bulk of their debt as special revenue bonds, which
have been generally considered as protected from adjustment.119
(...continued)
Capital Management, LLC v. García-Padilla (case 3:14-cv-01569). The February 6, 2015, opinion and order is
available at http://www.noticel.com/uploads/gallery/documents/ed648d7e7839c5b66e556b14d3c639b3.pdf.
112
11 U.S.C. §903(1).
113
Franklin California Tax-Free Trust et al. v. Commonwealth of Puerto Rico and Puerto Rico Electric Power
Authority et al.; opinion, docket items 15-1218, 15-1221, 15-1271, 15-1272 (consolidated), July 6, 2015,
http://media.ca1.uscourts.gov/pdf.opinions/15-1218P-01A.pdf.
114
Resident Commissioner Pierluisi introduced H.R. 5305, a similar bill, in the 113th Congress.
115
Governor García Padilla, Mensaje del Gobernador (Message of the Governor), June 29, 2015.
116
Bloomberg, “Treasury’s Lew Says Puerto Rico Crisis Must be Resolved Locally,” July 29, 2015,
http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-07-29/treasury-s-lew-says-puerto-rico-crisis-must-be-resolved-locally.
117
Testimony of Thomas Mayer, Partner of Kramer Levin Naftalis and Frankel LLP, in U.S. Congress, House
Committee on the Judiciary, H.R. 870, the “Puerto Rico Chapter 9 Uniformity Act of 2015,” 114th Cong., 1st sess.,
February 26, 2015, http://judiciary.house.gov/?a=Files.Serve&File_id=B7832791-B261-4FD8-ADC4-5A4117A52339.
118
See Michael Corkery, “Let Us Help You, Hedge Funds Tell Puerto Rico,” New York Times, September 12, 2014,
http://dealbook.nytimes.com/2014/09/12/puerto-rico-finds-it-has-new-friends-in-hedge-funds/.
119
One summary of chapter 9 provisions concludes that “Congress made clear that revenue bondholders are entitled to
receive the revenues pledged to them without any interference and on a timely basis.” James E. Spiotto, Primer on
Municipal Debt Adjustment: Chapter 9, 2012, p. 28, http://www.afgi.org/resources/Bankruptcy_Primer.pdf. The
Senate’s explanation of the relevant provision stated that “[t]o eliminate the confusion and to confirm various state laws
and constitutional provisions regarding the rights of bondholders to receive revenues pledged to them in payment of
their debt obligations of a municipality, a new section is provided in the Amendment to ensure that revenue
bondholders receive the benefit of their bargain with the municipal issuer and that they will have unimpaired rights to
the project revenues pledged to them.” U.S. Congress, Senate Committee on the Judiciary, Report to Accompany S.
1863, 100th Cong., 2nd sess., S.Rept. 100-506, 1988, p. 12.
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Puerto Rico’s Current Fiscal Challenges
Federalism, Flexibility, and Fiscal Responsibility
Federal systems allow lower level governments to adapt policies to reflect local preferences,
while letting the central government focus on programs of national interest and concern. A federal
system of government also provides a degree of fiscal insurance to lower-level governments. For
example, a central government can respond to mitigate the consequences of disasters or localized
economic downturns affecting specific states or regions.
The level of support for lower-level governments provided by a central government is typically
linked to the stringency of fiscal controls. Federal systems, by and large, can be divided into two
types. Some federal governments—such as the United States—allow local governments more
autonomy, but maintain an expectation that those governments will manage any budgetary
shortfalls largely on their own. Other federal systems provide more extensive support for lowerlevel governments, but impose more restrictive central control on local decisions.120 The
independence of U.S. state governments to set their own fiscal paths has thus been linked to an
expectation that those governments take responsibility for their finances. In some other fiscal
systems, the willingness of a central federal government to cover shortfalls by lower-level
governments has been seen as having led to fiscal behavior that was less prudent.121
The U.S. federal system provides substantial implicit fiscal insurance to state and local
governments through the automatic stabilization characteristics of income support programs,
federal disaster assistance, and by a progressive federal individual income tax.122 The federal
government, however, has been generally reluctant to offer direct financial assistance to states in
difficult fiscal situations.
Control Board Proposals
Some Members have called for some form of control board to oversee Puerto Rico’s finances and
other aspects of public administration. As noted above, Governor García Padilla has called for
establishment of a local control board to oversee fiscal recovery. Representative Jeff Duncan,
chairman of the Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere of the House Foreign Affairs
Committee, called for a control board to oversee Puerto Rico’s finances along the lines of the
financial control board that Congress set up in 1995 to oversee the District of Columbia’s
government.123 One federal appeals court judge, however, contended that “instituting direct
Congressional control of Puerto Rico’s finances through a financial control board would require
fundamentally redefining Puerto Rico’s relationship to the United States.”124
120
Jonathan A. Rodden, Hamilton’s Paradox: The Promise and Peril of Fiscal Federalism (New York: Cambridge,
2006).
121
Ibid.
122
One 1991 study estimated that a $1 drop in a U.S. region’s income would result in a decrease in tax collections of 34
cents and a 6-cent increase in federal transfers. See Xavier Sala-i-Martin and Jeffrey Sachs, “Fiscal Federalism and
Optimum Currency Areas: Evidence for Europe From the United States,” NBER Working Paper no. 3855, October
1991.
123
Representative Jeff Duncan, “Puerto Rico Financial Board,” Dear Colleague letter, June 19, 2015. Also see Micheal
Corkery, “Financial Control Board Should Take Over Debt-Laden Puerto Rico, Lawmaker Says,” New York Times,
June 19, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/20/business/dealbook/financial-control-board-should-take-over-debtladen-puerto-rico-lawmaker-says.html.
124
Franklin California Tax-Free v. Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, No. 15-1218 (1st Cir. 2015), Concurrence by
Torruella at p. 68, July 6, 2015, http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-1st-circuit/1707047.html.
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Congress established the District of Columbia Financial Responsibility and Management
Assistance Authority, commonly known as the Control Board, by passing the District of
Columbia Financial Responsibility and Management Assistance Act of 1995 (P.L. 104-8).125 That
act also created a chief financial officer (CFO) position with authority to administer the District’s
financial operations. The federal government also assumed certain pension and judicial
obligations of the District and reduced the District’s share of Medicaid costs.126 After the District
government was able to balance its budget for four years, the Control Board became dormant
after September 2001.127
State governments have also established financial control boards for other municipal
governments, such as the cities of Philadelphia, Cleveland, and Detroit.128 The federal
government also extended fiscal assistance directly and indirectly to New York City in 1975.129
Several congressional proposals have put forth that include some form of control or oversight
board. Representative Sean Duffy introduced H.R. 4199, the Puerto Rico Financial Stability and
Debt Restructuring Choice Act on December 9, 2015. Senator Hatch introduced S. 2381, the
Puerto Rico Assistance Act of 2015, on the same day. The House Natural Resources Committee
issued a discussion draft on March 29, 2016 of the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and
Economic Stability Act.
Structural Reforms in the Medium and Long Term
Congress could also encourage the Puerto Rican government to pursue economic development
strategies more in line with the island’s economic comparative advantages rather than its tax
advantages.
Revenue Policies
Puerto Rico has long relied on special provisions in the U.S. tax code and in its own tax laws to
stimulate investment. Many of the tax advantages available to corporations or subsidiaries located
in Puerto Rico, such as Internal Revenue Code Section 936, which until it was phased out
between 1996 and 2005, essentially exempted income of U.S. firms operating in U.S.
possessions, have reduced the U.S. Treasury’s receipts.130 The IRS’s unwillingness to challenge
the creditability of Puerto Rico’s Act 154 taxes against U.S. tax liability provides indirect support
125
See CRS Report R43847, Medicaid’s Federal Medical Assistance Percentage (FMAP), FY2016, by Alison Mitchell
CRS Report RL30897, The Evolution of District of Columbia Governance, by Michael K. Fauntroy (out of print;
available upon request).
126
Those changes were made through the National Capital Revitalization and Self-Government Improvement Act of
1997 (P.L. 105-33). For details, see Jon Bouker, “The D.C. Revitalization Act: History, Provisions, and Promises,” in
Building the Best Capital City in the World (Washington, DC: Brookings, 2008).
127
District of Columbia Government, Office of the Chief Financial Officer, “History of the OCFO,” http://cfo.dc.gov/
page/history-ocfo.
128
See CRS Report 95-328E, Financial Control Boards for Cities in Distress, by Nona Notto and Lillian Rymarowicz,
which is available upon request. For a summary of other prominent municipal bankruptcies, see James E. Spiotto,
Primer on Municipal Debt Adjustment: Chapter 9, 2012, pp. 8-12, http://www.afgi.org/resources/
Bankruptcy_Primer.pdf.
129
Dall Forsythe, “Debt Management in New York City, 1978-2008,” working paper, Wagner School, New York
University, October 2008, http://wagner.nyu.edu/files/faculty/publications/
Forsythe_Debt_Management_in_NYC_ABFM_2008_Final.pdf.
130
CRS Report RS20695, The Puerto Rican Economic Activity Tax Credit: Current Proposals and Scheduled
Phaseout, by David Brumbaugh (out of print; available upon request).
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for the island’s public finances that is nearly offset by the loss of revenues foregone by the U.S.
Treasury.131 Puerto Rico’s Act 22, which provides certain tax exemptions to wealthy persons who
establish residency in Puerto Rico, may also affect U.S. Treasury receipts.
Jones Act and Transportation
Congress could also consider options that might address structural issues that may have hindered
Puerto Rico’s economic growth. Congress could consider several regulatory policies, such as
Jones Act restrictions on shipping between Puerto Rico and the mainland. Congress has already
waived Jones Act requirements for the U.S. Virgin Islands and could extend that waiver to Puerto
Rico.132
Labor and Income Support
Several past studies have noted that labor participation rates for Puerto Rico are well below those
on the mainland. Some have suggested that social insurance may play a role in discouraging
employment outside the underground economy. The Economic and Fiscal Recovery Working
Group plan of September 2015 proposes establishment of an earned income tax credit, a
restructuring of the Nutritional Assistance Program (NAP; the island analogue to the Food
Stamps/Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), and changes to public housing policies—all
designed to bolster incentives to work.
Some economists have also pointed to the federal minimum wage as a hindrance to labor
demand.133 The Economic and Fiscal Recovery Working Group plan calls for several labor
reforms, including limits on severance pay, weakened dismissal protections, and changes in
overtime regulations. The plan also calls on Congress to grant a 10-year waiver of minimum
wage increases for workers under the age of 25.134
Author Contact Information
D. Andrew Austin
Analyst in Economic Policy
aaustin@crs.loc.gov, 7-6552
131
Some subsidiaries of foreign countries, such as Ireland and Netherlands, have not been able to credit section 154
taxes.
132
CRS Report R43653, Shipping U.S. Crude Oil by Water: Vessel Flag Requirements and Safety Issues, by John
Frittelli.
133
Krueger, Teja, and Wolfe, op. cit.
134
Working Group for the Fiscal and Economic Recovery of Puerto Rico, Puerto Rico Fiscal and Economic Growth
Plan, September 9, 2015, op. cit.
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