Thursday, January 20, 2011

Can an Entire State Declare Bankruptcy?

Is bankruptcy the answer to budget and public pension woes of Michigan and other troubled states? It might not be as far-fetched as it sounds. Policymakers are working behind the scenes to make it possible.

Mary Williams Walsh of The New York Times reports:

Bankruptcy could permit a state to alter its contractual promises to retirees, which are often protected by state constitutions, and it could provide an alternative to a no-strings bailout. Along with retirees, however, investors in a state’s bonds could suffer, possibly ending up at the back of the line as unsecured creditors.

“All of a sudden, there’s a whole new risk factor,” said Paul S. Maco, a partner at the firm Vinson & Elkins who was head of the Securities and Exchange Commission’s Office of Municipal Securities during the Clinton administration.

For now, the fear of destabilizing the municipal bond market with the words “state bankruptcy” has proponents in Congress going about their work on tiptoe. No draft bill is in circulation yet, and no member of Congress has come forward as a sponsor, although Senator John Cornyn, a Texas Republican, asked the Federal Reserve chairman, Ben S. Bernanke, about the possibility in a hearing this month.


  1. A once-bankrupt state of course wouldn't have any buyers for subsequent general-obligation bond issues for quite a while. Running a state on a cash-on-hand-plus-revenue-as-collected basis would be challenging even in the best of times, I'd think.

  2. This has come to the legislation, and have made a buzz in the first quarter this year, which has never ceased to be in the talks thereafter. You can read several articles here:


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