Regional News

Puerto Rico Eyes Sales Tax Borrowing

Puerto Rico Gov. Luis Fortuño Tuesday evening released a $9.26 billion budget proposal for fiscal 2012 that will use $285 million of sales tax borrowing to help close a $610 million ­deficit.

Officials are looking to issue the bonds by June 30 through the Puerto Rico Sales Tax Financing Corp., called COFINA by its Spanish acronym.

The administration has yet to select an underwriter for the transaction and the bonds may price in the U.S. tax-exempt municipal market or in Puerto Rico’s local market, said Juan Carlos Batlle, president of the Government Development Bank for Puerto Rico, which accesses the capital markets for most ­borrowing in Puerto Rico. The bank is also the island’s fiscal adviser.

Puerto Rico has used sales-tax bond proceeds over the past few years to help close structural deficits. The administration reduced the budget shortfalls from $3.3 billion in fiscal 2009 to $1 billion for the current year and a projected $610 million for fiscal 2012, which begins July 1. The goal is to eliminate structural deficits by fiscal 2013.

“Although we do still carry a deficit, it’s down 81% from the peak of $3.3 billion when the administration took office in fiscal 2009,” Batlle said. “So we’re obviously working towards achieving the balanced budget for the fiscal year 2013.”

The remaining $325 million needed to close the fiscal 2012 budget gap will come from a private loan transaction. The GDB will have more details on that transaction in the coming weeks, Batlle said.

Along with the $285 million of COFINA bonds, Puerto Rico plans to sell $295 million of new-money general obligation bonds by June 30, its first such borrowing in more than two years.

The $9.26 billion spending plan is $110 million larger than this year’s. Officials anticipate collecting $8.65 billion of revenue next year, $520 million more than fiscal 2011 revenue estimates.

Those projections include $1.5 billion of excise tax receipts and $1.3 billion of sales tax revenue, with the commonwealth collecting $200 million of additional sales tax receipts in fiscal 2012 compared to this year.

Stronger tax collections — in particular sales tax receipts — fiscal stabilization initiatives, and a slight economic recovery account for the higher revenue projections for fiscal 2012, Batlle said.

Officials expect Puerto Rico’s gross domestic product to show 0.7% growth in fiscal 2012 after five years of negative growth.

The commonwealth will pay roughly $670 million in debt service costs in fiscal 2012, according to Batlle.

Fortuño’s proposal includes spending increases for health and safety programs, agricultural initiatives, the Department of Education, and the Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Authority to help avoid water-rate increases.

“Although we still have a deficit, we have slightly more resources in order to provide [residents] with more and better basic services, particularly in the areas of public security, health, and education,” Fortuño said in his budget address Tuesday evening before a special joint session of the Legislature.

Batlle said the fiscal 2012 spending plan does not include any potential payments the government may receive for a possible long-term lease of an existing asset. In fiscal 2012, Puerto Rico plans to enter its busiest toll road, Route 22, and the island’s main airport in San Juan into concession agreements with a private operator in exchange for up-front payments.

Officials expect that once outstanding bonds related to those two facilities are paid down, the commonwealth will have funds remaining from the initial payments from the concessionaires.

It has yet to announce how it plans to use any remaining public-private partnership proceeds.

“We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it,” Batlle said.

The governor’s budget plan also includes a one-percentage-point increase, or a $48 million boost, in the pension contribution payment. The administration plans to increase that payment every year for the next 10 years to improve the pension fund’s liquidity.

The fund will be depleted by fiscal 2019 and Puerto Rico’s unfunded pension liability is $17 billion.

Batlle said in the next 30 days the administration will file pension reform legislation to help address its retirement challenges.

The pro-statehood governor is also moving forward on a two-part referendum that would allow residents to vote on Puerto Rico’s status. Fortuño plans to hold the first referendum by the end of 2012.

On Tuesday evening he announced the formation of a committee that would include representatives from all of Puerto Rico’s political parties to craft ways to increase voter participation in the ­referendums.



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