Puerto Rico received court approval to leave bankruptcy through the largest restructuring of U.S. municipal debt ever, ending years of conflict with creditors as the U.S. territory confronts other stubborn economic problems.
Tuesday’s court ruling approved a write-down of $30.5 billion in public debts built up during an economic decline marked by high joblessness, outward migration and unsustainable borrowing that tipped Puerto Rico into bankruptcy in 2017. The restructuring plan calms tension between Puerto Rico and its Wall Street creditors dating to its debt default, the largest ever on bonds backed by the full faith and credit of a U.S. municipality.
The territory entered bankruptcy with $74 billion in bond debt and a $55 billion gap between the pension benefits promised to employees and retirees and the funding set aside to pay for them. Public agencies were beset by cronyism and failed for years to draw up accurate budgets or account for expenses, according to a 2018 investigation commissioned by the board.
Sprawling bureaucracy and a high cost of doing business discouraged investment, especially after the expiration of some corporate tax breaks in 2006 pushed some pharmaceutical and other manufacturers to depart. To make up for a shrinking tax base, officials borrowed to paper over deficits and skimped on pension contributions.
Many residents of Puerto Rico, political leaders, and some investors have called for an independent audit of how the huge debt was built up, according to Judge Swain’s decision.
Author(s): Andrew Scurria and Soma Biswas
Publication Date: 18 Jan 2022
Publication Site: WSJ