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    Entries in Congress (9)

    Thursday
    Jul142016

    Puerto Rico's Warning for States, Cities: You Might Be Next

    Gov. Alejandro Garcia Padilla said the island's rescue might simply be a harbinger of things to come on the mainland.
    BY  JULY 14, 2016

    President Obama recently signed into law a highly anticipated -- and much debated -- rescue bill for debt-laden Puerto Rico. While the bill has its detractors, it marks a positive step toward the promise of recovery for the island. But the bill's impact could go far beyond the commonwealth's shores.

    Puerto Rico, like states and many cities, can't legally declare bankruptcy. Saddled with $70 billion in debt, Gov. Alejandro Garcia Padilla's administration has spent the last few years unsuccessfully trying to reach an agreement with creditors. During that time, the commonwealth watched its tax base decline as residents fled stateside and Puerto Rican government entities defaulted on debt.

    That's what life without bankruptcy protection is like for governments, Padilla said this week in a speech at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C. He went on to suggest that Puerto Rico, with its smaller economy and population size, might simply be farther along on a path other U.S. governments are also traveling. "We are only ahead of the curve -- the curve that looms for many states and municipalities," he said. "We are forced to try the route that others have not tried before, to knock on the doors that others may need to approach in the not-so-distant future."

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    Friday
    Jul012016

    The Week in Public Finance: Rescuing Puerto Rico, Brexit Fallout and Minimum-Wage Trends

    A roundup of money (and other) news governments can use.
    BY  JULY 1, 2016

    Puerto Rico’s New Path

    Congress this week has reached an agreement on a rescue bill for Puerto Rico. The troubled territory is set to default for a third time over the past year on a debt payment due today. The legislation, which was signed by President Obama Thursday, follows a long-running debate about whether Congress should intervene at all.

    The bill, called the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management and Economic Stability Act, or PROMESA, passed the House of Representatives earlier this month and the Senate on Wednesday. The legislation would allow the island a path to restructure its more than $70 billion in debt while installing a financial control board to govern its finances. It was modeled after similar legislation for Washington, D.C., whose finances were also subject to a control board two decades ago.

    The Takeaway: The legislation won’t stop Puerto Rico from defaulting on its $2 billion debt payment Friday. But the fact that it now has a path to solvency -- however murky and long -- delivers a message of certainty to municipal market investors. To be sure, investors will take a hit and Puerto Rico’s officials will lose immediate control of the island’s financial future. But the process will be far more orderly than it has been in the past year or so. Litigation promised “to be endless and to consume scarce resources of the beleaguered commonwealth’s government," former New York Lt. Gov. Richard Ravitch pointed out in an op-ed this week

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    Tuesday
    Jun072016

    Cost of Tax Breaks for States, Localities May Be Exposed

    If approved, a new rule would make it easier for groups to challenge the tax exemptions that state and local governments get from the feds.
    BY  JUNE 7, 2016

    A proposed change in financial rules would shed more light on what the federal government gives up in tax breaks to state and local governments. If approved, it could provide ammunition to groups that want to reduce those benefits as a way of eliminating the federal budget deficit.

    The new rule, proposed by the Federal Accounting Standards Advisory Board (FASAB), would require the feds to include in annual financial reports the "revenue impact" (but not a precise calculation) of all Washington's lost revenue from tax breaks. The U.S. Treasury Department already estimates the cost of these expenditures, but they aren't included in federal annual financial reports.

    According to the Treasury Department, the provision that lets filers deduct their state and local income and property taxes from the income they declare to the federal government cost $84 billion in lost revenue just this year. An additional $32 billion accounts for state and local governments' much-beloved tax exemption for municipal bonds, which critics have been trying to repeal for years.

    But the largest federal deduction by far is the one employers get for their contributions to employee health insurance premiums and medical care. That cost the feds $211 billion in lost revenue this year. For perspective, the federal budget is a little under $4 trillion, while the budget deficit is a little over $500 billion.

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    Friday
    Apr292016

    The Week in Public Finance: Broke Puerto Rico, Slow Financial Disclosures and Trouble in Kansas

    A roundup of money (and other) news governments can use.
    BY  APRIL 29, 2016

    Broke in Puerto Rico

    Congress stalled this week on legislation that could help Puerto Rico restructure its debts. That leaves the financially strapped U.S. territory continuing to try and piece together agreements with its creditors.

    The commonwealth’s next debt payment, which is nearly a half-billion dollars in securities, is due Monday, and it's expected to default. There are reports that Puerto Rico’s main financing arm is negotiating a deal with creditors to pay slightly less than half of what is owed. But even so, credit rating agencies still view such negotiated cuts as a default on debt.

    Puerto Rico, however, won't get out of its jam with a series of deals. In total, the territory owes about $70 billion in debt that it can’t pay.

    Congress is considering installing a federal oversight board, among other financial reforms, but lawmakers this week said they don’t expect to move on that legislation until July. Absent a federal oversight board, Puerto Rico is vulnerable to lawsuits from creditors. If that happens, that would likely drag down any restructuring process even further, according to an analysis this week by Moody’s Investors Service.

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    Friday
    Apr152016

    The Week in Public Finance: Puerto Rico Drama and a Corn-y Kind of Tax Credit

    A roundup of money (and other) news governments can use.
    BY  APRIL 15, 2016

    Beyond the Numbers in Puerto Rico

    The drama over whether Congress should allow financially strapped Puerto Rico to restructure its debts has kicked up a notch after the recent announcement that the territory’s main financier was putting a moratorium on paying its debt, among other things. This week, a group called Main Street Bondholders launched an ad campaign calling the proposed federal legislation a “bailout” that “removes any incentive for Puerto Rico to remain at the table with bondholders.” The group says it represents the interest of retiree investors.

    In response, House Speaker Paul Ryan issued a lengthy statement charging that “big-money interest groups on Wall Street” were dumping “a lot of money toward sabotaging this legislation in order to force a last-minute bailout upon Puerto Rico.” That would put U.S. taxpayers on the hook for creditors’ “bad loans,” Ryan said, which is what Congress is trying to avoid.

    Anytime someone mentions “big-money interest groups on Wall Street,” it can be tempting to assume they're referring to Republican mega-donors Charles and David Koch. In this case, that's correct: The Main Street Bondholders were formed by the 60 Plus Association, a conservative small-government group that spent millions in the 2012 and 2014 election cycles to help elect conservative or Tea Party candidates. Much of its funding came from conservative groups with ties to the Koch Brothers. The group has been quiet until recently and no information is readily available yet on its funding and expenses this election cycle.

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