For municipal bond investors and insurers, recent events in Puerto Rico have become a major concern. Puerto Rico has tried to address its mounting debt crisis by enacting legislation that would create, in effect, a quasi-bankruptcy court to provide restructuring relief for certain public corporations that have issued revenue bonds, including the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, the Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Authority and the Puerto Rico Highways and Transportation Authority.
Not surprisingly, the legislation has sparked a suit by certain bondholders challenging its legality and constitutionality. They have filed a complaint in federal district court in Puerto Rico, asking the court to hold that the legislation violates Section 903 of the United States Bankruptcy Code, which precludes “States” from enacting laws for the composition of debt of “municipalities” that purport to bind creditors without their consent. The plaintiff bondholders also argue that the legislation violates the Contract Clause in Article I, Section 10 of the U.S. Constitution and the Takings Clause under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments.
Our colleagues Len Weiser-Varon in Public Finance and Bill Kannel in Bankruptcy have been following these events closely for many months and have posted several items discussing the Puerto Rico debt crisis on Mintz Levin’s Public Finance Matters blog. You can find their two most recent posts here and here. Len and Bill also recently took part in a tele-seminar with the National Federation of Municipal Analysts (NFMA), which NFMA members can access through its Members Center: http://www.nfma.org/.