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Assured Guaranty : As Hartford Mulls Bankruptcy, Bond Insurer Offers to Help Postpone Payments -- Update

By Heather Gillers 

Hartford's biggest bond insurer said it had offered to help the city postpone payments on as much as $300 million in outstanding debt, in a move designed to help prevent a bankruptcy filing for Connecticut's capital.

The insurer, Assured Guaranty Ltd., made the announcement before a Monday conference call between Hartford and its bondholders.

During the call Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin said postponement of the city's debt would be inadequate without other fixes such as more revenue from the state, according to a statement released by the city after the call.

"I appreciate Assured's willingness to have constructive discussions," the mayor said, according to the statement, but "this administration is not interested in pushing off this challenge for another mayor or another generation to fix."

Under Assured Guaranty's proposal, debt payments due in the next 15 years would instead be spread out over the next 30 years without bankruptcy or default. The city would issue new longer-dated bonds and use the proceeds to make the near-term debt payments.

Assured Guaranty and another insurer, Build America Mutual, would insure the new bonds, said an Assured Guaranty spokesman.

Assured Guaranty backs 57% of Hartford's roughly $550 million in outstanding general obligation debt and would be on the hook for any shortfall in payments should the city enter bankruptcy. Build America Mutual backs $103 million in Hartford debt. About $163 million in Hartford bonds are held by U.S. mutual funds.

Hartford is in the middle of a fiscal emergency because of a weak tax base and a budget deficit of nearly $50 million. It also has one of the lowest credit ratings in the nation. Making matters worse, Connecticut lawmakers have been unable to reach agreement on a state budget more than two months into the fiscal year, leaving Hartford short of state funding.

Tim Holler