On September 13, 2017, the Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board (the “MSRB”) published a market advisory on selective disclosure (the “Notice”). The stated purpose of the Notice is to “increase awareness” of selective disclosure as a “market fairness” concern.  Although the Notice acknowledges that selective disclosure by issuers of, or conduit obligors on, municipal securities is not prohibited or “inherently problematic”, the Notice cautions issuers and obligors in the municipal market not to selectively disclose material nonpublic information.

The Notice’s bottom line is to urge that issuers of and obligors on municipal securities voluntarily disclose to the broader marketplace information that is potentially material and is being disclosed or has been disclosed to a subset of actual or potential bondholders “by a method or combination of methods that is reasonably designed to effect broad, non-exclusionary distribution of the information to the public”, including, for example, by posting the relevant information on the MSRB’s EMMA website.

The Notice addresses the practice of certain municipal securities issuers and obligors of making selective disclosure, which occurs when certain classes of investors (the Notice singles out investment bankers, investment advisers and institutional investors as “typical” recipients) are given access to information but other investors are not. Selective disclosure may occur when the issuer presents information relating to an issue to current or prospective investors, for example, during road shows, investor conferences and one-on-one investor calls or meetings. The Notice states that “these events are not inherently problematic, but they can become so when the information conveyed is nonpublic and material”.

The Notice addresses selective disclosure in both the primary and secondary markets. As an example, the MSRB notes that investor conferences and investor calls often include question-and-answer sessions, which may place the issuer at risk of discussing nonpublic material information, such as information that is not included in the preliminary official statement. As to secondary market selective disclosure, the MSRB uses the example of when an issuer might provide new nonpublic material information, which is not required to be disclosed pursuant to Rule 15c2-12 under the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 (“Exchange Act”) or any other rule, to select investors or analysts.

As an example from other markets, the Notice outlines some of the requirements of the Securities and Exchange Commission’s (SEC) Regulation Fair Disclosure, more commonly known as Regulation FD, adopted in 2000 to address, in part, selective disclosure by public companies. The regulation provides that, when an issuer discloses material nonpublic information to certain persons (e.g., brokers, dealers, investment advisers and investment companies), it must publicly disclose that information. If the selective disclosure was intentional, the issuer must make the public disclosure simultaneously; if it was unintentional, the issuer must make the public disclosure promptly.

The Notice acknowledges that Regulation FD does not apply to municipal issuers (or to obligors on municipal securities that are not public issuers of non-municipal securities), as municipal issuers are exempt from regulation by the SEC (other than antifraud provisions). Similarly, while the Exchange Act provides the MSRB with broad authority to write rules governing the activities of brokers, dealers, municipal securities dealers and municipal advisors, it does not provide the MSRB with authority to write rules governing the activities of issuers.

The Notice also acknowledges that selective disclosure, even of material nonpublic information, does not in and of itself constitute inside information for purposes of “insider trading” prohibitions, as such prohibitions generally have been construed as applicable only where the disclosure is made in breach of a duty to the issuer. However, the Notice appears to promote reducing selective disclosure by highlighting the risk that selective disclosure of nonpublic and material information might be indicative of material omissions or misstatements in offering documents or result in transactions that might be considered insider trading.

The Notice suggests that issuers and conduit obligors may wish to develop and follow guidelines for disclosure in a manner that disseminates all potentially material nonpublic information to all market participants. This is not unlike the push a few years ago by the Internal Revenue Service for issuers to establish post-issuance compliance guidelines.  The Notice further suggests that issuers consider adopting, on a voluntary basis, the dissemination principles set forth in Regulation FD.

The MSRB claims that the purpose of the Notice “is not to discourage direct communications between issuers and investors and/or analysts, as road shows, investor conferences and other similar communications are legitimate market practices that are not inherently problematic.” Although the Notice is measured in tone and does not communicate any new legal requirements, it may prompt some issuers to decide that it is overly burdensome to sort through what good faith nonpublic communications might be deemed “unfair” selective disclosure, and to determine that their most efficient options are to err on the side of not entertaining calls or meetings involving individual analysts or investor groups or to post all nonpublic communications (presumably including transcripts of oral discussions) on EMMA.  Although some issuers have adopted model standards to address these concerns; for some issuers, especially smaller issuers that are not in the market regularly, a policy of publicly posting everything that is said may well have a chilling effect on routine conversations between issuer representatives and investors.  There also may be routine and follow-up conversations between issuer representatives and investor representatives that focus on details and monitoring of generally known items that an issuer may reasonably deem not to be material, and there is no reason to discourage such interactions.

It is to be hoped that the municipal market will continue to operate in a manner that acknowledges investor protection and market integrity and that continues to disclose material information to all without an overreaction that shuts down individualized discussions.

By LEN WEISER-VARON

The U.S. Supreme Court’s June 26 opinion in Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc. v. Comer, precluding states from discriminating against churches in at least some state financing programs, raises anew the question of whether states may, or are required to, provide tax-exempt conduit bond financing to churches and other sectarian institutions.  The Supreme Court’s decision further complicates an already complicated analysis of that question by bond counsel,  and in some instances may tip bond counsel’s answer in favor of green-lighting tax-exempt financing of some capital projects of sectarian institutions.

The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution precludes Congress and, via the Fourteenth Amendment, states from legislating the establishment of religion (the “Establishment Clause”), or prohibiting the free exercise thereof (the “Free Exercise Clause”).  Under a line of Supreme Court cases that has been cast into doubt but never expressly repudiated by a majority of the U.S. Supreme Court, the Establishment Clause has been held to prohibit state financing of “pervasively sectarian” institutions, i.e. institutions that “are so ‘pervasively sectarian’ that secular activities cannot be separated from sectarian ones.” Roemer v. Board of Publ. Works of Maryland (1976).   Continue Reading Tax-Exempt Financing of Churches, Parochial Schools and Other Sectarian Institutions After Trinity Lutheran Church: Permitted? Required? Let us Pray for Answers

By MEGHAN BURKE and POONAM PATIDAR

Public financing, including tax-exempt bond financing, of facilities used by professional sport teams has long been a controversial topic, with advocates and opponents disagreeing over whether the public benefits sufficiently to justify public subsidies.  Since 2000, over $3.2 billion of tax exempt bonds have been issued to finance the construction and renovation of 36 sports stadiums.

A bill has been introduced that would eliminate the availability of federally tax-exempt bonds for stadium financings.  Under existing tax law, use of a stadium by the applicable professional sports team constitutes “private use,” but taxable “private activity bond” status, which is triggered by “private use” of the financed facility combined with the presence of “private security or payment” for the applicable bonds, can be avoided by structuring the bonds to be payable from tax or other revenues unrelated to the financed stadium.

The bill would amend the Internal Revenue Code to treat bonds used to finance a “professional sports stadium” as automatically meeting the “private security or payment” test,  thus rendering any such bonds taxable irrespective of the source of payment.

This bill is identical to a version introduced in the House of Representatives in February and a slight departure from prior versions in the House that extended the exclusion from tax-exempt financing to a broader category of “entertainment” facilities.

What’s new this time? There are versions of legislation intended to terminate tax-exempt financing of professional sports stadiums in both the House and Senate, arguably evidencing an increased likelihood of advancement.

By CHARLES E. CAREY

On March 15, 2017, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“Commission” or “SEC”) published in the Federal Register for comment proposed amendments to Rule 15c2-12 (the “Rule”) under the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 (“Exchange Act”) that would amend the list of event notices required under the Rule in a manner that, if such amendments are finalized in their proposed form, would likely require issuers of, or “obligated persons” on, publicly offered municipal bonds to provide detailed ongoing disclosure of any new debt, derivatives and other “financial obligations.”

The Rule requires that a broker, dealer, or municipal securities dealer (collectively, “dealers”) acting as an underwriter in a primary offering of municipal securities reasonably determine that an issuer or an obligated person has undertaken, in a written agreement or contract for the benefit of holders of the municipal securities, to provide to the Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board (“MSRB”) through the MSRB’s Electronic Municipal Market Access (“EMMA”) system, prompt notice of specified events. The proposed amendments would amend the list of such event notices to include;

  • (i) incurrence of a financial obligation of the obligated person, if material, or agreement [by the obligated person] to covenants, events of default, remedies, priority rights, or other similar terms of a financial obligation of the obligated person, any of which affect security holders, if material; and
  • (ii) default, event of acceleration, termination event, modification of terms, or other similar events under the terms of a financial obligation of the obligated person, any of which reflect financial difficulties.

The proposed amendment provides a broad definition of “financial obligation” which includes: a (i) debt obligation, (ii) lease, (iii) guarantee, (iv) derivative instrument, or (v) monetary obligation resulting from a judicial, administrative, or arbitration proceeding. The “financial obligation” definition excludes traditional municipal bonds which are already covered by the Rule.

In the release accompanying the proposed amendments, the SEC noted that if new financial obligations or new material covenants, events of default or remedies impacted an issuer’s or obligated person’s liquidity and creditworthiness, the credit quality of the issuer’s or obligated person’s outstanding debt could be adversely affected which could impact an investor’s investment decision or other market participant’s credit analysis. Such changes to credit quality could also affect the price of the issuer’s or obligated person’s existing bonds.  Items the SEC referenced as potentially material include debt service coverage ratios, rate covenants, additional bond tests, contingent liabilities, events of default, remedies and priority payment provisions (including structural priority such as balloon payments, for example).

The Commission’s accompanying release stated that the event notice of incurrence of a material financial obligation generally should include a description of the material terms of the financial obligation. According to the release, examples of such material terms include the date of incurrence, principal amount, maturity and amortization, and interest rate, if fixed, or method of computation, if variable (and any default rates); the release states that disclosure of other terms may be appropriate as well, depending on the circumstances.

Unless the proposed amendments are pared back following the comment period, they are likely to result in the required disclosure by issuers or obligated persons of municipal bonds subject to the Rule of virtually all new loan agreements with banks or other private lenders, privately placed municipal bond indentures or loan agreements, swap agreements, real estate leases, and material judgments or arbitration rulings, as issuers and obligated persons are unlikely to shoulder the administrative burden and legal risk associated with determinations of which obligations, and which terms of such obligations, are “material” and which are, and will remain in hindsight, clearly immaterial.  Similarly, for expense and risk reasons, it is more likely that full legal documents will be disclosed versus substantially redacted or summarized versions.

The proposed amendments do not appear to require disclosure of the termination or satisfaction of financial obligations previously disclosed on EMMA as material events; accordingly they may result in the accumulation over time on EMMA of a variety of lengthy loan agreements, indentures, swap agreements and the like with no clear way for bondholders or brokers accessing EMMA to determine whether the relevant obligations and the related agreements continue in effect. Such overdisclosure may limit the pool of investors with respect to the obligations of the issuer or obligated person, in that brokers responsible under MSRB Rule G-47 for conveying to customers all material information about the security accessible on EMMA may opt not to do so for securities with EMMA postings that include unwieldy amounts of raw legal documents.

Issuers and obligated persons may also deem the requirement to publicly disclose otherwise private transactions adverse to their business interests. Currently, for example, an issuer or obligated person may negotiate different covenants and different covenant levels with different private lenders, without each lender necessarily having access to the covenants of the other lenders.  If the amendments require the issuer or obligated person to disclose on EMMA the coverage, days cash on hand, interest rates and other material terms of its private loan arrangements, the result over time may be for each new lender to require, in effect, most favored nation status with covenants and other terms at least as tough as the toughest terms previously agreed to by the applicable issuer or obligated group.  Reasonable minds may disagree on whether that should “come with the territory” when an issuer chooses to access the public municipal market, but to date such public disclosure of the details of private transactions has not been required.

The second new event notice, for the occurrence of a default, event of acceleration, termination event, modification of terms, or other similar events under the terms of a financial obligation of the issuer or obligated person, presents a different judgment call for issuers and obligated persons, as such disclosure is only required if the event “reflects financial difficulties.” Some of the examples cited in the release for subsequent events include monetary or covenant defaults that might result in acceleration of the debt, swap events, such as rating downgrades, which might require the posting of collateral or the payment of a termination payment and changes to the contract rights of the counterparties to financial obligations. Again, it is unlikely that entities subject to such requirements would expend much legal capital on parsing through whether a swap termination event, or even an amendment of loan documents, “reflects financial difficulties”, and the tendency is likely to be towards overdisclosure.

There are additional ambiguities in the proposed amendments. According to the accompanying release, the amendments will only be applicable to continuing disclosure agreements executed after the amendments are finalized, but it is unclear, for example, whether an issuer or obligated person that executes a continuing disclosure agreement governed by the amended Rule will be required to disclose all previously incurred material “financial obligations”, or whether only “financial obligations” incurred following the execution of such an agreement will be subject to such disclosure.  The accompanying release does indicate that the required notice of default, event of acceleration, termination event, modification of terms, or other similar events under the terms of a financial obligation which reflect financial difficulties would apply with respect to financial obligations previously incurred.

Unlike many of the existing events for which event notices are currently required under the Rule, which occur rarely, incurrence of financial obligations occurs regularly for many issuers and obligated persons. Accordingly, these amendments arguably would constitute the broadest expansion to date of the Rule’s continuing disclosure requirements. They are sure to generate many comments from affected parties before they are finalized.

By MAXWELL D. SOLET and CHRISTIE MARTIN

As the Trump administration attempts to substantially reduce the amount of federal regulations, both the Deputy Tax Legislative Counsel of the Treasury Department and an Associate Chief Counsel at the Internal Revenue Service indicated this week that we are likely to see a virtual halt to formal tax law “guidance” for the foreseeable future.  Such guidance includes regulations, revenue rulings, and revenue procedures, the principal means by which Treasury and IRS provide interpretations of tax statutes.  However, both officials stated that the IRS will continue to provide taxpayer-specific private letter rulings (PLRs).  In addition to more PLRs being requested to resolve ambiguities in connection with particular transactions, the freezing of the formal guidance process could result in PLRs being given more weight than ever in the analysis of other transactions.  Not only will bond attorneys have more incentive to read and rely upon the only available tea leaves as to the IRS’s position, but IRS attorneys may write more substantive letter rulings with the expectation that they will guide practice beyond the particular transactions being ruled upon.  While officially non-precedential, PLRs have long been of particular importance in the tax-exempt bond practice, where formal guidance is slow and case law is almost nonexistent. 

 

By MAXWELL D. SOLET and CHRISTIE MARTIN

In August, 2016, the IRS issued Revenue Procedure 2016-44, the first comprehensive revision of its management contract safe harbors since Revenue Procedure 97-13.  Rev. Proc. 2016-44 (see our description here) built upon and amplified principles laid out in private letter rulings issued over many years and in Notice 2014-67.  Now, less than six months later, the IRS has published Revenue Procedure 2017-13, which clarifies and supersedes Rev. Proc. 2016-44 but does not materially change the safe harbors described therein.  The clarifications are in response to questions received with respect to certain types of compensation protected under earlier safe harbors, incentive compensation, timing of payments, treatment of land when determining useful life, and approval of rates.

 

 

By CHRISTIE MARTIN and MAXWELL D. SOLET

After two sets of proposed regulations, Treasury and IRS have now released final regulations on the definition of “issue price” for purposes of arbitrage investment restrictions that apply to tax-advantaged bonds (the “Final Regulations”) and it appears that the third time’s the charm. Practitioners are particularly praising the addition of a special rule for determining issue price for competitive sales and clarification on determining issue price for private placements.  The Final Regulations were published in the Federal Register on December 9, 2016 and can be found here.

Several years ago, tax regulators became concerned that the longstanding practice of allowing an issue price to be calculated based on reasonable expectations could lead to abuse in that “reasonably expected” issue prices for bonds sometimes differed from the prices at which bonds were actually being sold to retail investors. A determination by the IRS that the “issue price” has been erroneously calculated can have ramifications for the calculation of arbitrage yield that could ultimately cause loss of tax-advantaged status.  A clear and predictable definition of issue price is therefore essential for the tax-advantaged bond community.

After the first set of proposed regulations, published in the Federal Register on September 16, 2013, caused an uproar in the bond counsel community as being largely unworkable, they were withdrawn and re-proposed on June 24, 2015 (the “2015 Proposed Regulations”). The 2015 Proposed Regulations were subject to a comment period followed by a public hearing.  These Final Regulations build on the 2015 Proposed Regulations with certain changes in response to the public comments.

The Final Regulations look to actual facts as the general rule for determining issue price. Generally, the issue price of bonds is the first price at which a substantial amount (at least 10%) of the bonds is sold to the public.  For bonds issued in a private placement to a single buyer, the Final Regulations clarify that the issue price of the bonds is the price paid by that buyer.

In recognition of the need in the tax-advantaged bond community for certainty as of the sale date (particularly in the case of advance refundings), the Final Regulations offer a special rule in the event a substantial amount of bonds has not been sold to the public as of the sale date. The special rule allows reliance on the initial offering price to the public if certain conditions are satisfied including evidence that the bonds were actually offered at the initial offering price and the written agreement of each underwriter that it will not offer or sell the bonds to any person at a price higher than the initial offering price during the period starting on the sale date and ending on the earlier of (i) the close of the 5th business day after the sale date, or (ii) the date on which the underwriters have sold at least 10% of the bonds to the public at a price that is no higher than the initial offering price.

Procedures for satisfying the conditions for use of this special rule will have to be developed but it is reasonable to expect that changes will need to be made to bond purchase agreements and underwriter selling agreements to comply with these requirements.

The special rule for competitive sales provides that in a competitive sale meeting certain requirements, an issuer may treat the reasonably expected initial offering price to the public as of the sale date as the issue price if the winning bidder certifies that its winning bid was based on this reasonably expected initial offering price as of the sale date. This special issue price rule for competitive sales has been repeatedly requested by practitioners and is a welcome improvement over the prior proposed regulations which treated both negotiated sales and competitive sales in the same manner.

The Final Regulations will be effective for obligations that are sold on or after June 7, 2017 and there is no option to rely upon the Final Regulations with respect to obligations that are sold prior to that date. This delayed effective date should allow bond counsel and underwriters time to develop effective and hopefully uniform procedures and documentation to implement the new regulations.

By LEN WEISER-VARON

The linked Mintz Levin client advisory discusses a recent Third Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that held a “make-whole” optional redemption premium to be due upon a refinancing of corporate debt following its automatic acceleration upon bankruptcy. As noted in the linked advisory, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals also is considering this issue; whether it will come to the same conclusion remains to be seen. One way or another, these decisions will have spillover effect on judicial interpretation of optional redemption provisions in municipal bond transactions, and shine a spotlight upon the discrepancies between optional redemption provisions and other early payment provisions in most municipal bond indentures.

The Third Circuit case involved a debtor, Energy Future Holdings, that filed for bankruptcy for the explicit purpose of refinancing the debt at favorable interest rates while avoiding the hefty make-whole premiums payable upon an optional redemption of the refinanced notes. The bankruptcy court and the federal district court found nothing in the applicable corporate indenture requiring payment of a make-whole following an acceleration.  The Third Circuit reversed, interpreting the applicable corporate indenture’s “optional redemption” provisions to be applicable to the bankruptcy-triggered acceleration followed by repayment of the accelerated debt via a refinancing.

The Third Circuit’s ruling that the repayment following acceleration was an “optional redemption” may have been driven by the factual context of what could be characterized as an “optional bankruptcy” filed solely or primarily to jettison the make-whole payments and lock in lower rate replacement financing. The indenture’s acceleration provision was, as is usual, a remedial provision entirely separate from the indenture’s optional redemption provisions, and, as is typical but not universal, did not specify a premium to be due upon payment of the accelerated debt. Although once the accelerated payment was due there was nothing “optional” about paying it, the appellate panel opined that the payment on the applicable date was “optional” because the issuer chose to file for bankruptcy and chose not to deaccelerate the debt after the bankruptcy triggered the automatic acceleration.  The fact that the bondholders objected to repayment without a make-whole premium also seems to have factored into the court’s determination that the payment by the issuer was “optional.”

The federal appellate court also concluded that under New York law a “redemption” may occur at or before maturity of bonds, and that therefore a “redemption” is not synonymous with a prepayment.  (Indeed, the court suggested that if the make-whole premium had been labeled a “prepayment” premium rather than an “optional redemption” premium, it may have held the make-whole inapplicable, a curious distinction that leads back to the question of under what circumstances payment of an amount that has become due can be deemed optional.) The court disregarded indenture provisions that were technically inconsistent with its determination that the payment was an “optional redemption”, such as the optional redemption requirement of prior notice from the issuer to the bondholders. According to the court: “[The issuer] offers no reason why it could not have complied with [the redemption] notice procedures. In any event, it cannot use its own failure to notify to absolve its duty to pay the make-whole.”

By interpreting the indenture’s optional redemption provisions as applicable to the payment of the accelerated debt, the Third Circuit panel mooted and declined to address the noteholders’ alternate argument that the bankruptcy court should have granted relief from the bankruptcy stay to permit the bondholders to deaccelerate the accelerated debt. Whether that would have provided a more straightforward means of getting to the same result is debatable, as debt generally is deemed accelerated upon a bankruptcy whether or not it is contractually accelerated by the terms of the indenture.

The optional redemption provisions that are typical in municipal bond indentures refute the equivalence found by the Third Circuit between an optional redemption and a payment after acceleration. In contrast to the permissibility in corporate transactions of optional redemption at any time at a make-whole premium, the norm in municipal bond transactions is a lockout period (often 10 years) during which optional redemption is impermissible, followed by a declining fixed optional redemption premium. The fact that municipal indentures permit acceleration whenever there is an event of default, including upon bankruptcy, while imposing a lockout period for optional redemption, suggests that in the municipal bond context there may be less receptiveness by courts to the notion of deemed equivalence between an optional redemption and a payment following acceleration. Accordingly, a court may be less likely to deem an optional redemption premium applicable to a post-acceleration payment on a municipal bond absent express language requiring a premium in a post-acceleration context.

Whether corporate or municipal bonds are at issue, the best way to ensure the intended result is to draft clearly and specifically.  Municipal bond indentures often permit or require bonds to be paid ahead of schedule not only upon acceleration but upon a so-called extraordinary redemption.  These provisions, which typically permit payment ahead of schedule at par, are infrequently deployed relative to optional redemption provisions. Use of bankruptcy as a means of avoiding a prepayment premium is less likely in the municipal context, where the prepayment premium is typically 3% or less versus the often substantially larger make-whole premium, but “default refundings” of municipal bonds have been attempted to circumvent the optional redemption lockout period. There is no difference in the economic impact to a bondholder of early payment, no matter the degree of optionality or lack of optionality from the issuer’s perspective, and whether an early payment premium is expressly provided by the indenture in cases other than “optional redemption” is primarily a risk allocation question.

Drafting acceleration provisions and/or extraordinary redemption provisions in a manner that applies an equivalent premium to the optional redemption premium upon their exercise during the post-lockout period, and a make-whole or other premium during the optional redemption lockout period, provides better protection against any perceived risk of abuse of those provisions than reliance on the courts to figure out what the parties intended and/or is equitable in borderline scenarios.

By CHRISTIE  L. MARTIN and MAXWELL D. SOLET

The IRS on August 22, 2016 released long-anticipated Revenue Procedure 2016-44 (Rev. Proc. 2016-44), which substantially increases flexibility in, and provides a less formulaic approach to, the ability of a tax-exempt bond issuer or 501(c)(3) conduit borrower to contract with private parties without jeopardizing the tax-exemption of bonds that financed the facilities at which the applicable services are provided. Under the revised guidance, the term of the contract can be up to 30 years, but not in excess of 80% of the weighted average reasonably expected economic life of the managed property, and there are no restrictions on the percentage of compensation that can be variable, so long as none of the compensation constitutes a share of net profits.

The Internal Revenue Code restricts private use of facilities financed by certain categories of tax-exempt bonds, including governmental bonds and bonds issued for the benefit of hospitals, colleges and other organizations that are tax exempt under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. A manager of a facility is generally treated as a user of the facility. Rev. Proc. 2016-44 addresses so-called “management contracts” which are defined as “management, service, or incentive payment contracts between qualified users and service providers under which the service provider provides services for a managed property” and provides a revised management contract safe harbor under which a private management contract does not result in impermissible private business use of projects financed with tax-exempt bonds. This revised safe harbor generally permits almost any type of fixed or variable rate compensation for services rendered under a contract provided that the compensation is reasonable for services rendered during the term of the contract. It removes the previous requirements for prescribed percentages of fixed compensation for contracts with different terms. The revised safe harbors add certain new principles-based constraints (governmental control, governmental risk of loss, and no inconsistent tax positions by private service providers). As with the previous safe harbors, there is a prohibition against sharing of net profits.

The new safe harbor components are as follows:

  • Compensation for services rendered during the term of the contract must be reasonable.
  • The contract must not provide the service provider with any share of the net profits from operation of the managed facility. The guidance states that compensation to the service provider will not be treated as providing a share of net profits if no “element” of the compensation takes into account or is contingent upon, either the managed property’s net profits or both the managed property’s revenues and expenses for any fiscal period. For this purpose, “elements” of the compensation include eligibility for, the amount of, and the timing of the payment of the compensation. Incentive compensation will not be treated as providing a share of net profits if the eligibility for the incentive compensation is determined by standards that measure quality of services, performance or productivity.
  • The service provider must not bear the burden of any share of net losses from operation of the managed property.
  • The term of the contract cannot be greater than the lesser of 30 years or 80% of the weighted average reasonably expected economic life of the managed property.
  • The bond issuer or conduit borrower (each a “qualified user”) must exercise a significant degree of control over the use of the managed property. The guidance states that this control requirement is met if the contract requires the qualified user to approve the annual budget of the managed property, capital expenditures with respect to the managed property, each disposition of property that is part of the managed property, rates charged for the use of the managed property, and the general nature and type of use of the managed property (for example, the type of services).
  • The qualified user must bear the risk of loss upon damage or destruction of the managed property.
  • The service provider must agree that it is not entitled to and will not take any tax position that is inconsistent with being a service provider to the qualified user with respect to the managed property (e.g. agree not to take depreciation or amortization, tax credit or deduction for rent).
  • There can be no circumstances that would substantially limit the qualified user’s ability to exercise its rights under the contract based on all of the facts and circumstances. A safe harbor is provided for governance overlap between the contracting parties, under which governance overlap is permitted if (i) no more than 20 percent of the voting power of the governing body of the qualified user is vested in the directors, officers, shareholders, partners, members, and employees of the service provider or a related party thereof, (ii) the governing body of the qualified user does not include the chief executive officer of the service provider or the chairperson (or equivalent executive) of the service provider’s governing body, and (iii) the chief executive officer of the service provider is not the chief executive officer of the qualified user or any of the qualified user’s related parties.

The overall impact of Rev. Proc. 2016-44 would seem to be an increase in the ability of bond issuers and tax-exempt users of bond-financed facilities to use for-profit contractors at bond-financed facilities. However, practitioners have already noted that the increased flexibility comes with less certainty and more facts and circumstances analysis with respect to many aspects of the safe harbor. One area in which flexibility may be diminished is in the conditions under which payments may be subordinated or deferred, as the guidance indicates that timing of payment may not be conditioned on tests involving both the managed property’s revenues and expenses for any fiscal period.

The revised safe harbors are effective for any management contract that is entered into on or after August 22, 2016, and an issuer may apply these safe harbors to any management contract that was entered into before August 22, 2016. In addition, an issuer may apply the safe harbors in Rev. Proc. 97-13, as modified by Rev. Proc. 2001-39 and amplified by Notice 2014-67, to a management contract that is entered into before February 18, 2017 and that is not materially modified or extended on or after February 18, 2017 (other than pursuant to a renewal option as defined in Treasury Regulations §1.141-1(b)).

By LEN WEISER-VARON and BILL KANNEL

Today’s U.S. Supreme Court decision in Commonwealth of Puerto Rico v. Franklin California Tax-Free Trust puts an end to one of Puerto Rico’s multi-pronged efforts to deleverage itself.  Given the comprehensiveness of the First Circuit’s intermediate appellate opinion upholding the district court’s invalidation of Puerto Rico’s Recovery Act, it was surprising that the highest court took the case, a decision apparently prompted by Justice Sotomayor’s interest in obtaining a reversal.  Comments of some other Justices at oral arguments raised the possibility of Sotomayor attracting a majority for the proposition that the preemption provisions of Section 903 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code were inapplicable to Puerto Rico, but in the end only Justice Ginsburg joined what turned out to be Sotomayor’s dissenting opinion in a 5-2 ruling upholding the relegation of the Recovery Act to the dustbins of history.

As  we have written previously, the Recovery Act was damaged goods from the beginning: even if the fairly clear preemption argument had not prevailed, the Contracts Clause constraints on non-federal bankruptcy legislation would have severely constrained, if not eliminated, the effective use of  the Recovery Act to break bond contracts. In any event, the Recovery Act, and the Supreme Court’s decision, were  a couple weeks away from being moot, as it appears evident that Congress will pass PROMESA, the federal oversight and debt restructuring legislation that has always constituted the logical legal mechanism for those favoring a less chaotic denouement to Puerto Rico’s debt woes.