Taxpayer Bailout of Puerto Rico Can Be Avoided with Bankruptcy Solution

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Posted by Ryan Ellis on Tuesday, May 19th, 2015, 5:02 PM PERMALINK

If there's one thing the financial crisis taught taxpayers, it's that a bailout is one of the easiest ways to grow government and increase the corruption of crony capitalism in our system.

One such bailout may be brewing in Puerto Rico unless Congress acts soon.

Puerto Rico's insular electric company is out of money. In fact, its bonds have fallen to junk status. For any state municipality outside Puerto Rico (which is a territory, not a state), the next step would be obvious--apply for a structured bankruptcy settlement under Title IX of the federal bankruptcy code. That would be the best way for an ailing government entity to hit the reset button, pay debts equitably, and avoid a taxpayer bailout to keep it going. Investors would take a hit, but then life would go on without the need for extraordinary government measures.

Unfortunately, Puerto Rico does not have that option. Municipalities there were not included in the federal bankruptcy law, and the courts have said that the island cannot establish its own bankruptcy laws, either. That means Puerto Rico is stuck with a municipal power company with no money, a ton of debt, and no way out.

Why should taxpayers in the rest of the United States care?

The most likely outcome of this no-win scenario is a Congressional bailout of Puerto Rico and her ailing government-sponsored enterprises, starting with the power system. With no way to pay bills, and no bankruptcy option to get out of its insurmountable debt, the power company would be forced to shut down operations. This would immediately transform Puerto Rico into something less than a developing nation, a fate that is unimaginable in a territory owned and protected by the United States, and where 3.5 million U.S. citizens live and work.

Before this plunge into the dark ages, Congress would no doubt rush through emergency resources to prevent Puerto Rico from falling into a humanitarian calamity. This expenditure of funds--reasonable conservatives would call this a bailout--only has to happen because a structured bankruptcy is not an option.

This bailout scenario has been actively pushed for by Big Labor (the SEIU, UAW, and AFSCME), who has been lobbying the Obama Treasury Department to buy or guarantee Puerto Rican bonds. Some Puerto Rican Democrats would love to see a taxpayer bailout check from the Beltway. 

Another option very much on the table is for Puerto Rico to raise taxes, including the creation of a value-added tax, or VAT. That, too, would be a disaster for U.S. taxpayers as bad fiscal solutions on the island could easily spread north.

Thankfully, there is another way. H.R. 870, the "Puerto Rico Chapter 9 Uniformity Act of 2015," would allow Puerto Rican municipalities to do what the thousands of municipalities in the upper 50 states can already do--declare bankruptcy. Doing so would allow for a structured wind-down of this crisis under the administration of bankruptcy courts.

Clearly, that's a far better alternative than another bailout coming from Washington. Congress should pass H.R. 870 for the sake of avoiding a bailout of Puerto Rico.

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