St. Thomas

St. John

St.Croix

33RD LEGISLATURE AMENDS ACT NO. 8329

Published: Sep 19, 2020

ST. THOMAS — On Thursday, Members of the 33rd Legislature, led by Acting Senate President Myron D. Jackson, convened in a Special Session, called by Governor Albert Bryan, Jr., to receive testimony and consider amending Act No. 8329, the Matching Fund Securitization Act of 2020, amendments to the agreements with Diageo USVI, Inc., and Cruzan VIRIL, Ltd., and the ancillary agreements related to the issuance of the Matching Fund Securitization Bonds (MFSB).

The proposed measure, Bill No. 33-0372, amended Act No. 8329, specifically Title 29 of the VI Code, adding a new Chapter 24, creating the Matching Fund Securitization Corporation as a special purpose, independent and autonomous, public corporation, and governmental instrumentality.

The Body dissolved into Committee of the Whole to receive testimonies virtually from the VI Public Finance Authority (PFA), Office of Management and Budget (OMB), the Department of Finance (DOF), and members of the Governor’s financial and advisory team. Nathan Simmonds, PFA’s Finance and Administration Director, discussed the key provisions of the Act and overview of the transaction. “The Government of the VI, through the Public Finance Authority, previously sold bonds in order to provide funds for the cost of infrastructure and economic development, and to support rum production by Cruzan and Diageo.”

Currently, the U.S. Treasury collects an excise tax of $13.50 per proof gallon of rum manufactured by Diageo and Cruzan on St. Croix and shipped to the United States, and the Government receives a rebate of $13.25 per proof gallon from the excise taxes that the federal government collects (Matching Fund Receipts or Rum Cover-Over). The monies are used to pay periodic principal and interest to the bondholders, the rum companies, according to agreements executed for economic development, and the Government. This secured lockbox structure will remain in the New Matching Fund Bonds indenture with the Matching Fund Securitization Corporation replacing the PFA’s role as issuer in the old agreement.

In this new transaction, the new corporation would issue new MFSBs with a lower interest rate than that currently being paid on the Existing Matching Fund Bonds, and lower overall debt service requirements. As presented by the PFA, this would result in more of the Matching Fund Receipts flowing to both the Government and the rum companies after the debt service is paid. The increased amount of Matching Fund Receipts remaining will continue to go to the Government and the rum companies under their existing agreements.

The Corporation will acquire all of the Virgin Islands Government’s rights, title and interest to the Matching Fund Receipts to be paid to the Government by the U.S. Treasury as long as the Matching Fund Bonds are outstanding and issue the New Matching Fund Bonds and the residual certificate to pay the purchase price for the Matching Fund Receipts. The Governor will, then, direct the Secretary of the U.S. Treasury and the Department of the Interior to pay the Matching Fund Receipts directly into the restricted account created and maintained by the trustee for the New Matching Fund Bonds.

Specifically, the proposed securitization is expected to generate an additional $255 million in cash flow over the next three (3) fiscal years (2021, 2022, and 2023) at an average of $85 million per year. This increased cash flow would increase the liquidity of the Virgin Islands, and that increased liquidity would make more money available for the operation of the Government, including the funding of certain projects and priorities for the people of the Virgin Islands, at a time when COVID-19 has severely impacted our economy and revenues.

Once the transaction is completed and the refunding bonds issued, the savings derived from the refunding will be presented to the Legislature with the Governor’s recommendations for the projects to be funded.

After several rounds of questioning, the Body rose into Session, and voted on Bill No. 33-0372, as amended. The measure was approved with eight (8) votes in support, six (6) in opposition and will be sent to the Governor for further action.

Other invited testifiers present during Committee of the Whole included: OMB Director Jenifer O’Neal; Finance Commissioner Kirk Callwood; PFA Special Counsel, Miles Plaskett, Esq. (Duane Morris LLP); Bond Counsels Lisa Forcht Esq. (Hawkins Delafield & Wood, LLP), Pedro Hernandez, Esq. and Karol Denniston, Esq. (Squire Patton Boggs); General Counsel, Geoffrey Eaton, Esq. (Winston & Strawn LLP); Richard Tortora, President, Capital Markets Advisors, LLC; Kye Walker, Esq., Managing Attorney (The Walker Legal Group); and Adam Lorbert, Senior Vice President & Lead Investment Banker, Ramirez & Company.

Members present during Session included: Acting President Myron Jackson, Senators Alicia Barnes, Marvin Blyden, Donna Frett-Gregory, Janelle K. Sarauw, Athneil “Bobby” Thomas, Kurt Vialet, Oakland Benta, Dwayne DeGraff, Kenneth Gittens, Allison DeGazon, Javan James Sr., Stedmann Hodge, Jr., and  Steven Payne, Sr.

 

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