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Puerto Rico unveils fiscal reform plan to reduce much of $72B debt

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — Puerto Rico's government released a long-awaited fiscal reform plan on Wednesday that would reduce much of the island's $72 billion public debt and calls for restructuring the remainder at the expense of bondholders.

The five-year plan addresses only $47 billion of the U.S. territory's debt, leaving out debt held by Puerto Rico's troubled power company, as well as its water and sewer company. Even if the plan is implemented, officials noted the island's government would still face a $14 billion financing gap from 2016 to 2020.

They also said that meeting debt payments as scheduled could prevent the government from providing essential services to Puerto Ricans.

"A consensual compromise of the creditors' competing claims ... will be required in order to avoid a disorderly default ... and a legal morass that will further destabilize the commonwealth's economy and finances," the plan stated.

During a background briefing late Tuesday, members of the group that worked on the plan said Puerto Rico's Government Development Bank would run out of money by the end of this year if action is not taken and warned that the government would face a liquidity crunch next year if the plan is not implemented.

It is unclear how creditors and bondholders will react to the plan, which still requires approval by Puerto Rico's legislature and governor.

The plan calls for the creation of a five-member control board, whose members would be appointed by the governor but would take into account suggestions from creditors and potentially the federal government. The board would oversee implementation of the plan and have oversight of most public corporations including the Government Development Bank, but not the power or water and sewer companies. The group suggested that the board could impose sanctions, including a ban on entering into contracts, automatic expense cuts and automatic hiring freezes if the government does not comply with the plan.

Among the other proposals in the nearly 80-page plan is that the government ask for a 10-year waiver from future minimum wage increases for young workers, invest in private-public partnership, cut subsidies to municipalities and the University of Puerto Rico, crack down on tax evaders, continue consolidating public schools and offer early retirement.

It is unclear how many of these suggestions will be implemented. Officials said they anticipate an intense debate in Puerto Rico's House and Senate and noted that 2016 is an election year.

The plan also states that Puerto Rico should seek equal treatment from the U.S. government regarding tax incentives and health care reimbursements.

Puerto Rico Gov. Alejandro Garcia Padilla has said the $72 billion public debt is unpayable and needs restructuring.

Danica Coto, The Associated Press

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