Proposals for Disaster Recovery and Rebuilding Puerto Rico

  • TREAT PUERTO RICO FAIRLY – Puerto Ricans are US citizens by birth. Therefore, Congress should treat Puerto Rico as a state for purposes of allocating disaster recovery and rebuilding funds. Funding provided through FEMA and the Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Recovery program should be allocated to Puerto Rico on terms and conditions no less advantageous than those applicable to the fifty states, including funding for hazard mitigation to ensure we minimize harm from similar events in the future.

  • LEVERAGE PRIVATE SECTOR FUNDS – In addition to providing Puerto Rico with its fair share of disaster recovery funding, Congress should legislate to encourage the private sector to actively participate in the creation of the new Puerto Rico. This could be accomplished by enacting a special private activity disaster recovery bonds program, similar to the Liberty Bonds program enacted after 9/11 and after Hurricane Katrina. These bonds would be exempt from federal taxes on interest, including the Alternative Minimum Tax, which allows issuers to offer the bonds at lower interest rates. Proceeds from these bond offerings have been used in the past to finance broad reconstruction activities, including the rebuilding of utilities, hospitals, hotels, residential housing, and commercial real estate, among other uses. The private entity issuing the bonds is entirely responsible for their repayment.
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The Case for Comprehensive Disaster Relief

Erika P. Rodriguez for The New York Times

By: Sergio M. Marxuach
Public Policy Director

This hurricane season has been particularly bad with major storms hitting Florida, Texas, Puerto Rico, the United States Virgin Islands, and several Gulf states. Total damages are estimated to exceed $200 billion. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (“FEMA”) is doing the best job it can with the resources it has at its disposal, but it is clearly reaching the limits of its capabilities. Under the American constitutional system, only Congress has the authority to enact a comprehensive relief and reconstruction package to address this situation.

The devastation in Texas, Florida, the United States Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico has been well documented. The destruction of public infrastructure and the loss of private property affect millions of US citizens. A well-financed, broad-based recovery and reconstruction program would provide a much-needed boost to economic activity in these heavily damaged areas and help many hard-working families get back on their feet. Continue reading “The Case for Comprehensive Disaster Relief”

Non-Negotiable Principles: Congressional Action Regarding Puerto Rico

Click here for Spanish version / Oprima aquí para versión en español

The Center for a New Economy (“CNE”) has analyzed Puerto Rico’s economic and fiscal situation for more than a decade. During that period, we have carefully surveyed and considered the socioeconomic context and the rapidly deteriorating financial position of the island, and attempted to address some of the most pressing problems. Through the publication of a series of research papers and policy briefs, we have proposed thoughtful and actionable recommendations to multiple stakeholders, both within and beyond Puerto Rico. More recently, given the severity of the current situation and recognizing the complicated political scenario, we have engaged in advocacy and outreach efforts in Washington, D.C. to educate members of Congress and their staff, and the executive branch, about the need for comprehensive federal action on this issue.

As the situation in Puerto Rico and Washington D.C. reaches a critical point, we are asserting the following non-negotiable principles as CNE’s benchmarks for evaluating any new proposals regarding federal oversight of Puerto Rico’s finances and the process for restructuring and addressing its unsustainable public debt burden.

  1. Any federal oversight has to respect Puerto Rican political institutions and processes. Anything less would be both demeaning to Puerto Ricans and unworthy of the United States. Turning back the clock to the colonial policies of the Foraker Act of 1900 is simply unacceptable.
  2. The ultimate responsibility and decision-making authority regarding taxation and public expenditures must rest with Puerto Rico’s democratically elected officials, who should be transparent and held publicly accountable to their constituents. This is a fundamental principle of democratic governance that should not be sacrificed for political expediency or to appease fringe or special interest groups in the United States.
  3. Any proposal to restructure Puerto Rico’s debt must treat both creditors and debtors fairly and equitably and provide, ex ante, a clear and feasible path for actually delivering meaningful debt relief. In specific, no additional requirements/certifications/votes by an Oversight Board should be required to proceed to a court supervised debt restructuring process after a good faith attempt to reach a negotiated solution has failed.
  4. No classes of Puerto Rico debt should be excluded from the restructuring process. Setting up a two-track process, one for certain creditors, such as GO debt and COFINA bonds, and another for every other class of claims, would be extremely complicated to administer in the best case and probably unworkable in the worst. When it comes to restructuring, clarity is always better than uncertainty.
  5. New economic growth opportunities will not materialize by themselves even after the implementation of a comprehensive debt restructuring. Therefore, a (U.S. House/Senate) economic growth task force for Puerto Rico should collaborate with knowledgeable stakeholder groups in Puerto Rico to develop a long-term economic growth strategy. The design of such a collaborative comprehensive strategy should include short-term measures to spark new investment activity, and medium-term proposals that help rebuild economic institutions, strengthen public governance, and identify strategic bets in particular sectors of the Puerto Rican economy.
  6. Finally, if Congress is unwilling or unable to act, then it should expressly allow Puerto Rico to legislate its own legal framework to restructure its debt. Delaying a necessary restructuring of Puerto Rico’s debt will only lead to the destruction of bondholder value and lower recovery levels. Furthermore, going ahead with an untested and potentially disorderly legal process, with numerous creditor lawsuits and years of scorched-earth litigation, would further depress the local economy, increase restructuring costs, and make long-term recovery harder to achieve.


Principios no negociables en torno a la acción del Congreso sobre Puerto Rico

El Centro para una Nueva Economía (“CNE”) ha analizado la situación económica y fiscal de Puerto Rico durante más de una década. Durante este periodo, hemos examinado el contexto socioeconómico y alertado sobre la rapidez con que se ha deteriorado la situación fiscal de la isla. A través de la publicación de informes de investigación y política pública, hemos abordado algunos de los problemas más apremiantes de la isla y propuesto recomendaciones ponderadas y sensatas tanto dentro como fuera de Puerto Rico. Recientemente, dada la severidad de la situación actual y reconociendo el complicado escenario político, hemos desarrollado esfuerzos en Washington D.C. para educar a miembros y funcionarios del Congreso y el Ejecutivo de EEUU, sobre la necesidad de que el gobierno federal tome acción abarcadora sobre este asunto.

En momentos en que la situación en Puerto Rico y Washington D.C. llega a un punto crítico, afirmamos los siguientes principios no negociables del CNE para evaluar cualquier propuesta relacionada a la supervisión de las finanzas de Puerto Rico por parte del gobierno federal y el proceso para reestructurar y atender la insostenible deuda pública.

  1. Cualquier ejercicio federal de supervisión tiene que respetar las instituciones y los procesos políticos de Puerto Rico. Cualquier otra cosa sería degradante para los puertorriqueños e inapropiado para los Estados Unidos. Darle marcha atrás al reloj y volver a las políticas coloniales del Acta Foraker de 1900 es simplemente inaceptable.
  2. La responsabilidad y autoridad final sobre las decisiones relacionadas a asuntos impositivos y el gasto público debe residir en los oficiales democráticamente electos de Puerto Rico, quienes deben ser transparentes y rendir cuentas públicamente a sus constituyentes. Este es un principio fundamental de gobernanza democrática que no debe ser sacrificado por conveniencia política o para aplacar grupos de interés o sectores específicos en el entramado político de los EEUU.
  3. Cualquier propuesta para reestructurar la deuda de Puerto Rico debe tratar tanto a los acreedores como a los deudores de una manera equitativa y justa, y debe proveer ex ante un camino claro y viable para proveer un alivio significativo de la deuda. En particular, no se deben imponer requisitos/certificaciones/votos adicionales por parte de la Junta de Supervisión para que pueda procederse a un proceso de reestructuración supervisado por una corte. Debe bastar con que se haya hecho un esfuerzo de buena fe para llegar a una solución negociada y este esfuerzo haya fallado.
  4. Ninguna clase de deuda de Puerto Rico debe ser excluida del proceso de reestructuración. Establecer un proceso en dos canales, uno para la deuda de Obligaciones Generales (GO en inglés) y los bonos de COFINA y otro para todas las demás clases de reclamaciones sería extremadamente complicado de administrar. En el peor de los casos, este proceso probablemente sería imposible de ejecutar. En términos de la reestructuración de la deuda, la claridad siempre es mejor que la incertidumbre.
  5. Una reestructuración abarcadora de la deuda por sí misma no traerá nuevas oportunidades de crecimiento económico. Por lo tanto, un task force congresional para el desarrollo económico de Puerto Rico debe colaborar con sectores interesados y grupos informados en Puerto Rico para desarrollar una estrategia abarcadora de crecimiento económico a largo plazo. El diseño de esta estrategia colaborativa debe incluir medidas de corto plazo que provoquen nueva actividad de inversión, así como propuestas de mediano plazo que ayuden a reconstruir las instituciones económicas, fortalecer la gobernanza pública, e identificar apuestas estratégicas en sectores particulares de la economía de Puerto Rico.
  6. Finalmente, si el Congreso no está dispuesto o no puede actuar, entonces debe permitir que Puerto Rico legisle su propio marco legal para reestructurar la deuda. Seguir posponiendo una reestructuración necesaria de la deuda solo provocará la destrucción del valor de la inversión de los bonistas y niveles más bajos de recobro. Más aún, continuar con un proceso legal desordenado y plagado de incertidumbre, con numerosos litigios de acreedores, deprimirá aún más la economía local, aumentará los costos de la reestructuración y hará más difícil de alcanzar la recuperación económica en el largo plazo.


Why Congress Should Act Now

Staff Briefing by Sergio M. Marxuach for the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Natural Resources on April 28, 2016.


  • On behalf of the Center for a New Economy I want to thank the staff of the Committee on Natural Resources for the invitation to share with you some of the things we have learned over the last decade or so with respect to Puerto Rico’s complicated capital structure.
  • We recognize the Committee has devoted a considerable amount of time, effort, and resources to this issue and understand progress has been made in developing a comprehensive legislative solution to Puerto Rico’s debt crisis.
  • In spite of this progress, we believe that work remains to produce a bill that addresses the concerns of all stakeholders—both in Puerto Rico and in the mainland—in a balanced, equitable, and fair manner.
  • We look forward to continue working with you as the Committee adjusts the legislative text currently under consideration.

Continue reading “Why Congress Should Act Now”

Solving The Puerto Rico Debt Crisis: Policy Priorities for Congress

Puerto Rico’s current crisis has been years in the making and is not solely limited to the public debt overhang. At the core of the current predicament is a deteriorated development model and institutions that have hindered growth. Thus, any solution enacted by the federal government must recognize the multifaceted nature of the crisis. Following are the Center for a New Economy’s key recommendations regarding the proposed Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stabilization Act. Continue reading “Solving The Puerto Rico Debt Crisis: Policy Priorities for Congress”

Testimony before the US Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee

What follows is Sergio Marxuach’s testimony before the United States’ Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on Thursday, October 22nd, 2015. The Committee hearing addressed Puerto Rico’s economy, debt and options for Congress.



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