Report: Since 2015, fiscal impact of Act 20 incentives is $210 million

DDEC Secretary Manuel Laboy and Estudios Técnicos CEO José “Joaquín” Villamil (María Miranda/CB)

Stresses that ‘Act 22 grantees are no billionaires’

SAN JUAN — A study commissioned by the Puerto Rico Economic Development & Commerce Department (DDEC by its Spanish initials) on the laws approved in 2012 to attract investors was presented Tuesday at a roundtable with business reporters at the Puerto Rico Industrial Development Co. (Pridco) building in Hato Rey. 

DDEC Secretary Manuel Laboy and  José “Joaquín” Villamil, the chief executive officer of consulting firm Estudios Técnicos, which was commissioned to conduct the research for the “Performance of Incentive Programs Act 20-2012 and Act 22-2012” report, as well as some former economic development heads, explained the results. 

From 2015 to June 2019, some 1,680 companies were conferred the incentive benefits of Act 20, the Export Services Act. Before that, 211 decrees had been granted between 2012 and 2014. Thirty five percent of the decrees have been awarded to local firms, according to the report.

Act 22, known as the Act to Promote the Relocation of Individual Investors to Puerto Rico. It entices potential investors to move to Puerto Rico with a 100 percent tax exemption on all interest, dividends and long-term capital gains.

After the 410 decrees awarded under Act 22 by 2014, an additional 2,202 more were granted from 2015 to mid-2019.

Act 20 aims to promote the island as an international export business hub. The law provides incentives to companies that export services such as a 4 percent corporate tax rate and 100 percent tax exemption on dividends from business earnings derived from export services. Some 8,257 jobs directly “linked to export-related activities” were created from 2015 to 2019, the report says.

The fiscal impact of Act 20 businesses, from 2015 to June 2019, is estimated at $210 million. 

The results of the new report, the Economic Development secretary said, “reveal that under the Export Services Act, some 36,222 jobs were created from 2012 to mid-2019. The previous study, presented in 2016, revealed that, at that time, some 7,400 jobs had been created, and the 10-year projection was to create 56,601 jobs. Meanwhile, in 2015, the investment totaled some $500 million. The new report found that this line increased to $1.2 billion. These are very positive results, as they show that the law is fulfilling its mission of boosting Puerto Rico’s economic development by exporting the services and/or products that we generate on the island.” 

Nevertheless, the report says that estimating the impacts of Act 22 is more complex than those of Act 20, but among the findings are that 35 percent of individual investors started a businesses in Puerto Rico, including some that operate under Act 20. Between 2015 and mid-2019, the total real estate investment by decree-holder is estimated a $1.3 billion.

Between 2015 and mid-2019 some 4,400 direct jobs were created by Act 22 investors, whose “planned capital investments are estimated at $678 million,” the report reads. Some 68 percent  of these beneficiaries have purchased real estate in Puerto Rico “and 32 percent currently rent a property on the island,” Villamil noted. “The value of the real estate purchased was more than $1.3 billion. The total value of a year’s estimated rent equals $560 million.”

Villamil said that more than 81 percent of these individuals have a net worth of less than $10 million and 2.8 percent have a net worth of more than $50 million. A bulleted section of the report is titled: “Act 22 grantees are no billionaires.” 

“There is a strong misconception of Act 22 grantees as ‘super rich’ individuals,” the report reads, adding that the “above evidences that Puerto Ricans in the U.S. with a net worth of over $1million could consider the benefits of Act 22 as an incentive to relocate, retire or contribute to the local economy.”

It adds: “Debunking the above misconception could open the door for a bigger pool of successful diaspora members (5.2 million Puerto Ricans in the U.S.) that could invest in Puerto Rico.”

By 2029, it is estimated that some 6,392 decrees should be approved under Act 22. More than 14,600 jobs are expected to have been created by that year.  According to the report, the aggregate impact on the housing sector projected from 2015 to 2029 could reach $7.4 billion in purchased properties and nearly $450 million in rented properties. 

It should be noted that under the stipulations of the Incentives Code, incentive decree beneficiaries will have to purchase property on the island.

Laboy said that after going over the results of the study, the DDEC has identified several areas of “opportunity to maximize the performance” of both laws.

“The public policy of the administration of Gov. Wanda Vázquez is to continue to evaluate all the initiatives and laws we implement,” Laboy said. “Like everything else, there are always opportunities to maximize the results. For example, we have identified great potential to attract Puerto Rican entrepreneurs residing in the United States who are eligible to invest on the island through Act 22 of 2012. There is also an opportunity to continue promoting the export of products and services. In addition, cooperatives and commercial banking can benefit from the transfer of investors’ capital to the island. We will continue to evaluate these results to make the necessary adjustments that allow us to achieve or exceed the stipulated projections.”




Puerto Rico government boasts about filming of ‘The Baker and the Beauty’ comedy series

(Courtesy)

Expected to generate about $57 million

SAN JUAN — Puerto Rico Gov. Wanda Vázquez and Economic Development Secretary Manuel Laboy announced Tuesday the local filming of TV series “The Baker and the Beauty,” which is expected to generate about $57 million.

Based on an Israeli show by Assi Azar, the TV series is produced by Universal Television and ABC Studios in association with Keshet Studios. Filming begins this month and will continue through February, creating 1,688 direct jobs and generating some 1,200 hotel room nights.

“This is great news for the local talents that work in film, tourism, the hotel industry and many other economic sectors,” Vázquez said at a press conference Tuesday in the Carolina, Puerto Rico, studio where part of the filming will take place. “Of the estimated $57 million private investment, approximately $44 million will be paid to entities and individuals residing in Puerto Rico,” she added.

Laboy stressed that the government continues “supporting local and foreign productions that help us promote ourselves as an investment destination.”

The secretary of the Economic Development & Commerce Department said that the agency’s Film Industry Development Program awarded a 40 percent tax credit for the projected spending budget of $44 million under the Economic Incentives Act for the Puerto Rico Film Industry. 

“The government of Puerto Rico is complying with its commitment of supporting the development of this industry with the new Incentives Code,” Laboy said. “That allows for film projects to have access to tax credits of up to 40 percent, to which an additional 15 percent is added subject to complying with certain parameters related with residents….”

The romantic comedy tells the story of a man who works at his Cuban family’s bakery shop, but “one crazy” night in Miami, he meets an international supermodel and not only does his life become public but cultures could clash as well.

ABC Studios is a part of Disney Television Studios, a collection of studios comprising 20th Century Fox Television, ABC Studios and Fox 21 Television Studios.

(Screen capture of www.abc.go.com)

Cast: Victor Rasuk as Daniel, Nathalie Kelley as Noa Hamilton, Carlos Gómez as Rafael Garcia, Dan Bucatinsky as Lewis, Lisa Vidal as Mari Garcia, David Del Rio as Mateo Garcia, Belissa Escobedo as Natalie and Michelle Veintimilla as Vanessa. 




Puerto Rico lawmakers inquire about abandoned commercial property

(CyberNews)

House committee chairman questions Economic Development department and bank; requests inventory

SAN JUAN — The Puerto Rico House of Representatives’ Economic Development, Planning, Telecommunications, Public-Private Partnerships and Energy Committee, which is chaired by the Rep. Víctor Parés Otero, began Tuesday the study of House Resolution 414, to learn what has led to the closure, abandonment and deterioration of commercial property on the island.

The measure, authored by Parés, also seeks to consider establishing legislation that benefits this sector through the creation of incentives, subsidies, economic stimuli or tax extensions with the objective of helping business people reopen their respective concerns and create jobs.

The legal adviser of the Economic Development Commerce Department (DDEC by its Spanish acronym), Carlos Ríos Pierluisi, suggested waiting until “the implementation of the recently approved legislation matures and the existing incentives” because the “closing, abandonment and deterioration of commercial spaces will decrease,” arguing that the recently approved Opportunity Zones measure directly affects abandoned commercial structures.

Ríos highlighted various economic stimuli, such as those found in the Incentives Code and Opportunities Zones incentives as well as the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development funds from the Community Development Block Grant – Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) program.

Regarding CDBG-DR funds, which are divided into two programs, Small Businesses Financing (SBF) and Construction and Commercial Revolving Loan (CCRL), he said, “DDEC has $300 million in CDBG-DR funds for both programs, divided into $200 million for SBF and $100 million for CCRL,” explaining that the “funds available are mainly used to help small existing businesses, new businesses or businesses that are restarting operations, which suffered damages or interruptions due to hurricanes Irma and María.”

The manager of the Economic Development Bank’s (EDB) Legal Affairs Department, Rafael Lugo Guzmán, also testified, telling the committee that the entity has financing tools to support small and midsize entrepreneurs interested in leasing or acquiring property to start operations.

Replying to Parés’, who inquired about the EDB’s available financing, Lugo said that, “at the bank, we are helping business people create new businesses,” adding that the financing cap “is between $250,000 to half a million dollars.”

Rep. Guillermo Miranda Rivera pointed out the need for a sustainable economic development study.

“We need to know the businesses that are viable by zone—what kind of business has a future,” he said.

DDEC’s legal adviser said he would look into the matter but that there are market studies that analyze investment risks.

Before finalizing the hearing, the Chairman Parés asked the DDEC official for an inventory of the abandoned structures, broken down by municipality, and announced he will be citing both the Association and Federation of Mayors, as well as several private sector representatives.




‘Puerto Rico: A Paradise of Opportunities’ summit to be held Tuesday

Brings public, private sectors together to discuss Opportunity Zone benefits

SAN JUAN – Investors, government officials and experts on the benefits the Opportunity Zones program has to offer will gather Tuesday at the Puerto Rico Convention Center in San Juan at the “Puerto Rico: A Paradise of Opportunities” summit.

Puerto Rico Economic Development Secretary Manuel Laboy is underscoring that virtually the entire island, 94 percent in fact, was declared an Opportunity Zone by the U.S. Treasury Department under the Tax Cuts & Jobs Act of 2017.

Opportunity Zones are low-income jurisdictions for which incentives such as tax benefits are available to attract investment with the end-goal of development and the creation of jobs to help jumpstart local economies.

The federal law encourages investors to reinvest capital gains, which can come from any investment, such as stocks, bonds, real estate or partnership interests. Investors must “sell their asset and realize a capital gain” and then invest in an Opportunity Zone within 180 days of receiving those gains.

Laboy stressed that besides some sectors in the municipalities of San Juan and Guaynabo, which “are not economically disadvantaged areas,” as well as the former Naval Station Roosevelt Roads in Ceiba, the Opportunity Zone program incentives are available for most of the island. The latter was excluded not because the area is not economically disadvantaged but rather because “nobody lives there,” Laboy said. However, Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González is working on having the area reconsidered and included in the program.

Economic Development Secretary Manuel Laboy (Jaime Rivera/CB)

“The determination [of the Opportunity Zones] is made through the U.S. Census Tract, where population demographics are verified,” Laboy explained.

Laboy stressed that the the local Opportunity Zones Act complements the federal law, making “Puerto Rico even more attractive in comparison to other zones in the mainland U.S.” because of the number of incentives future investors may be eligible to receive.

“A number of projects are being worked on because Puerto Rico offers a series of incentives aimed at tourism development…,” Laboy said, referring to those available under Act 74 of 2010, known as the Tourism Development Act.

“We are starting to see  positive movement because Act 74 incentives can be combined with the capital funds from the Opportunity Zones,” Laboy said.

Puerto Rico government officials are counting on massive real estate investment through the program, which requires substantial improvements to be made to existing properties.

“So they [investors] will be able to combine local incentives with the Opportunity Zones program,” he noted. “For example, real estate can be developed for commercial, institutional or community development purposes…. From an economic point of view, we believe there will be a lot of movement in the tourism area.”

Other areas Laboy believes will also receive a boost are services and retail, with the manufacturing and agriculture sectors benefiting as well. Energy and infrastructure projects are also expected to boost the related activity sought.

“The main benefit is the capital gains,” he added. “All of the capital gains generated from that qualifying fund for real estate or property development has to remain in that qualifying fund to be able to benefit from the tax deferral at a federal level,” Laboy said, referring to the provision that deems capital gains from the sale or exchange of an investment in so-called Opportunity Funds permanently excluded from taxable income if held for 10 years.

InvestPR, the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration (PRFAA), the Puerto Rico Public Private Partnerships Authority (P3s), and the Puerto Rico Central Office of Recovery and Reconstruction joined efforts to host the event and will present the latest actionable information on the program, while showcasing the island as a unique investment destination. The event runs from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.

InvestPR is a nonprofit organization created by Act 13 of 2017, aimed at promoting Puerto Rico as a competitive investment jurisdiction. It is taking on some of the activities previously carried out by Economic Development and Commerce Department, such as representing the island at investment conferences, fielding requests from businesses and coordinating with local stakeholders.

For more information or to register, visit www.ozprsummit.com




Puerto Rico gov announces measures to keep doctors on the island

Include a reduced requirement for preferential tax rate, student-debt forgiveness program

(Courtesy)

SAN JUAN – In an attempt to retain and attract medical talent, Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló has sent a bill for the legislature’s consideration that would extend the deadline local doctors have to request a decree for preferential tax treatment until June 30.

At the news conference Wednesday in his office, La Fortaleza, the governor also announced he would include “a debt-forgiveness program” related to student loans in the soon-to-be-introduced incentives code legislation for doctors who commit to “serve the island” for the next seven years.

The Incentives for the Retention and Return of Medical Professionals Act allows the issuance of tax decrees under which doctors benefit from a preferential tax rate of 4 percent.

“On this occasion, we are extending the date of application for this tax decree for an additional period, so the greatest number of doctors can avail themselves of its benefits, to provide better health services to Puerto Ricans. We are also giving an additional incentive to attract talent that is not in Puerto Rico, in order to establish their practice here,” Rosselló Nevares said in a statement released by La Fortaleza.

“With this extension, we provide an alternative so those doctors who were not able to submit their decree request for…2018 in time, can benefit from the benefits of Act 14-2017,” he added.

The decree would help defray up to $65,000 in graduate student loan debt for doctors who earned their degrees either on the island or abroad. The program will be subject to requirements established by the Economic Development and Commerce Department (DDEC by its Spanish acronym).

To be eligible, doctors must meet the requirements pursuant to the U.S. Medical License Exam (USMLE) or must be studying some kind of medical specialty or pursuing their training residency. Were a physician who joined the program to leave the island before seven years have passed, unspecified noncompliance penalties would be imposed along with being required to pay off the student loan.

DDEC Secretary Manuel Laboy noted that since Act 14 in 2017, as of this month some 2,700 doctors file their returns at the preferential tax rate, “with the commitment of staying in the island for 15 years.”

“Now, with this new initiative, the Incentives Code will be provided through a regulation that will elaborate the parameters needed to promote a debt payment system for medical graduates to make a seven-year commitment to offer their services in Puerto Rico, retaining specialists that are difficult to recruit,” Laboy said. “With this action, we join other jurisdictions in the United States that are attractive to our medical talent that also offer these benefits.”

The governor said the benefits “apply to all,” but these will be considered during the legislative process and based on criteria such as the specialists that are needed most.

Health Secretary Rafael Rodríguez futher noted that the initiative is aimed at young medical residents that are interested in remaining in Puerto Rico to work once they have completed their studies. Officials estimate that 600 to 1,000 people a year could benefit from the medical student program.

The qualified medical student’s loan repayment project joins the “Cuentas Mi Futuro,” or “My Future Accounts” program, which will be included in the Incentives Code. It creates an educational development account of some $1,000 that will be established for children in kindergarten so they have some savings for their post-secondary studies.

House Bill 1635, introduced in May 2018, seeks to provide greater certainty to invest in Puerto Rico by establishing clearer regulations and more efficient processes to attract more capital.

 




Nearly 1,400 companies have settled in Puerto Rico since Act 20 was enacted

(Screen capture of www.bdopr.com)

SAN JUAN– A total of 1,387 companies have moved to Puerto Rico since Act 20, known as the Export Services Act, was enacted in 2012, according to a release issued by tax and accounting consulting firm BDO Puerto Rico.

The latest data, BDO said, shows that in 2018 some 610 established themselves on the island, the largest number for a year yet. Last year’s data contrasts with 2017, when Hurricane Maria struck the island and the number of companies that settled in Puerto Rico numbered 161.

Act 20 aims to promote the island as an international export business hub to spur its development. It grants a tax exemption decree to local service companies that export services abroad. Benefits include a 4% corporate tax rate and a 100% tax exemption on dividends from business earnings derived from export services.

Act 20 covers such sectors as consultancy, legal services, call centers, health services, advertising, construction, engineering, architecture and electronic data processing services.

“Puerto Rico tax exemption laws work in conjunction with Section 933 of the U.S. Internal Revenue Code. The code establishes that the income that a Puerto Rico bona fide resident receives from sources within the island throughout the taxable year is not subject to U.S. federal tax,” the release explained, with BDO Puerto Rico partner and head of its Tax Advisory Services division, Gabriel Hernández, CPA, saying the island now has more  opportunities “following the approval of federal funds for the reconstruction of Puerto Rico.”




6th Edition of the Puerto Rico Investment Summit Set for February

SAN JUAN – The sixth edition of Puerto Rico’s largest investment conference, the Puerto Rico Investment Summit (PRIS), will take place Feb. 1415, at the newly renovated El San Juan Hotel in Isla Verde.

Since 2013, the summit has been a platform to present potential investors and business owners, 400 of which gather yearly for the event, with the unique tax incentives and competitive advantages the island provides. In turn job creation is spurred, boosting the local economy.

Summit organizers said this year’s program will delve into new topics, such as Opportunity Zones, Gilti tax and, “for the first time, a half day Financial Services Forum, focused on financial and insurance specific content including International Insurance Center and IFEs,” a summit release reads.

Investors, CPAs and lawyers who work with these programs, as well as investors and entrepreneurs who have established themselves on the island, were picked to share their experience and knowledge with attendees.

The conference format will include panels, power talks, workshops and “campfires,” as well as two networking events to provide an opportunity to meet industry players and government officials.

The speakers invited include officials such as Economic Development Secretary Manuel Laboy and Ella Woger, chief operating officer of Invest Puerto Rico. Early tax incentive adopter Nicholas Prouty, CEO of Putnam Bridge, who has invested more than $150 million on the island and owns the largest marina in the Caribbean, will be speaking as well.

Among the area experts who are also slated to speak are Margaret Anadu, partner at Goldman Sachs; Edgar Ríos from PMA Law, one of the leading local tax law firms; Gaby Hernández of BDO Puerto Rico; Jeff Carmichael, CEO for the Yingke Caribbean Center; Walter Keenan from Advantage Insurance; and Manuel López-Zambrana of DLA Piper.

“Puerto Rico is a great option for business, export services or new investments. It not only has the most attractive tax structure under the U.S., but also provides other benefits that include a highly skilled workforce, a privileged location, and it is under the U.S. legal and financial systems,” said Brenda González-Santini, organizer and owner of the event. “PRIS provides the best platform to learn, meet and network with top level professionals.”




In session’s last day, bill passed to make tax credits public

SAN JUAN – During the last day of the session, among the measures the Puerto Rico House of Representatives passed was the bill to create the Credit Transactions and Tax Incentives Transparency Law, with the objective of guaranteeing that granted credit and tax incentives decrees are published in both the Economic Development and Treasury departments’ websites.

Authored by Senate President Thomas Rivera Schatz, the lower chamber also concurred with Senate Bill 24, which adds two articles to the Political Campaign Financing Control Law of Puerto Rico to establish parameters for the evaluation of the debts incurred by political committees, among other provisions.

The House also validated Senate Bill 1147, which creates the Economic Development Opportunity Zones Act of Puerto Rico of 2018, and adds a new section to the 2011 Internal Revenue Code of Puerto Rico; amends several articles of the Act to Promote the Relocation of Individual Investors to Puerto Rico and the “Private Capital Funds Act to “promote incentives and a favorable regulatory environment to establish qualified opportunities in the Island,” a release reads.

The body also endorsed S.B. 1138, which renumbers several articles in the law that prohibits the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (Prepa) from billing or charging customers for consumption reflected in the utility’s meters but not generated by Prepa.

Also S.B. 869 477, which orders the concession of the Toro Negro I hydroelectric plant and its lands to the Consorcio Energético de la Montaña group of municipalities.

Puerto Rico energy policy bill does not make it through session

Puerto Rico gov’t banks on Opportunity Zone incentives to spur economic development

 




Puerto Rico gov, Treasury secretary sued for access to tax breaks data

SAN JUAN – Cecille Blondet, the executive director of Espacios Abiertos (EA), an organization that advocates for public accountability, announced Tuesday that the nonprofit group has requested a writ of mandamus with the Court of First Instance of San Juan for Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló Nevares and Treasury Secretary Teresa Fuentes Marimón to be ordered to disclose tax abatement agreements, expenditures and breaks provided by the government.

She said the legal action was filed after an unsuccessful request for information on April 13 from then-Treasury Secretary Raúl Maldonado Gautier and “in keeping with the request EA has made repeatedly to the government to make a fiscal spending report public,” according to an EA release.

Maldonado, now the governor’s chief of staff, said Wednesday that government lawyers were analyzing whether they should disclose the tax abatement agreements. He said the administration wants to make certain expenditures, contracts and tax breaks public; however, some contain confidential information that cannot be made public. He added that there also are nondisclosure agreements that must be respected.

“We presented that petition to ensure people have access to public information about concessions and tax incentives that constitute ‘expenditures’ of the Government of Puerto Rico,” Blondet said in a statement.

She pointed out that Section 208 (b) of the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management and Economic Stability Act (Promesa) required the governor to submit to the board, within six months of its establishment, a report of all tax abatement agreements.

In August, EA asked the board to confirm the existence of the aforementioned report. In a board letter sent to EA on Aug. 27, the panel confirmed it had received the report. “Although Section 208 (b) of the PROMESA Act prohibits ‘the members and employees (staff) of the Board’ from making the aforementioned report public, this does not prevent the Government of Puerto Rico from making the public disclosure required by the Constitution and laws of Puerto Rico, since it is a document produced in a public agency,” the release added.

The group stresses on its website that the federal government has published an official record of fiscal spending since the 1970s, as have “49 of the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and most of the countries that are part of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).” In addition, since 2016, the Governmental Accounting Standards Board requires it, via Statement No. 77, of “all governments and public instrumentalities.”

“People have the right to know about every dollar that is invested in tax privileges, which is, in turn, a dollar that is not collected for the general fund. What some people do not pay, costs us all in the reduction of services such as security, healthcare and education,” Blondet said, referring to the funding cuts for the University of Puerto Rico, among others.

“We are not against tax incentives, what we want is for them to be transparent so their benefit and cost-efficiency can be evaluated, without it being done behind people’s backs,” she added.

According to EA, its objective is to obtain access to public information to foster the “active and effective participation of the People of Puerto Rico in matters of public interest,” particularly in the use of public funds.

–Cybernews contributed to this report.

 




Puerto Rico gov’s rep to fiscal board: New policy is not retroactive

SAN JUAN – Puerto Rico’s Fiscal Agency and Financial Advisory Authority (AAFAF by its Spanish acronym) told the island’s Financial Oversight and Management Board this week that it will not provide it tax incentive decrees issued to manufacturing firms after June 2017 for its approval.

In a letter addressed to the fiscal board’s general counsel, Jaime El Koury, AAFAF Director Christian Sobrino, who is also the governor’s representative to the fiscal board, said that after the oversight panel made the document request public, numerous manufacturing, housing development and tourism firms expressed concern about the application of the board’s new policy to be privy to the tax decree documents.

Sobrino told the board that it has the power–under the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management and Economic Stability Act–to approve or not tax decrees before their execution, but not after they have been conferred. He said that, instead, AAFAF will only submit reports on those decrees.

Board Executive Director Natalie Jaresko said she knows Sobrino and herself share the same view regarding the importance of being able to implement the fiscal plan and expressed hope the two can reach an agreement on how best the board can fulfill its mandate.

“In all cases, the primary goal is to ensure consistency with the fiscal plan. I am not looking to determine conflicts of interest, legal issues…. Our goals are to determine consistency with the fiscal plan,” she said when asked if the board’s goal was to change the tax decrees that have already been signed.

Read the full text of the letter here.