Governor meets with fiscal board to discuss implementation plans
SAN JUAN – Gov. Ricardo Rosselló met Thursday morning with the chairman of Puerto Rico’s fiscal oversight board, José Carrión, and its executive director, Natalie Jaresko, to discuss, among other matters, the process of implementing the initiatives included in the fiscal plan.
Ramón Rosario, secretary of Public Affairs and Public Policy at the governor’s office, said the meeting was with Treasury Secretary Raúl Maldonado; Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Director José Marrero; La Fortaleza’s infrastructure adviser, María Palou; and technical staff of the Fiscal Agency and Financial Advisory Authority (FAFAA). The governor’s representative to the fiscal board, Elías Sánchez, participated via telephone.
In a press release late Thursday, the board said the purpose of the meeting “was to have a team-wide update session,” and “to review the actions taken up to now and to set the agenda for fiscal plan implementation moving forward.”
“Time is of the essence. This budget and the upcoming budgets of FY18 and FY19 have significant challenges in the areas of structural reforms and rightsizing. In order to achieve the goals the fiscal plan sets for all of us we have to work strategically now to prepare for and begin implementation of the necessary measures. I am convinced that if we continue to work together, as we have done up to now, we will accomplish our goals,” Jaresko said in the release.
“The governor presented several initiatives to the board members that are being completed at the government level to comply with the metrics and provisions of the fiscal plan. Among them, he presented new initiatives established by the project management officers [PMOs],” Rosario said at a press conference in the Santa Catalina Palace after the meeting, which lasted about two hours.
Among the PMOs appointed, Rosario emphasized Palou as infrastructure manager, Secretary Julia Keleher as education system restructuring manager, and Deputy Chief of Staff Itza García as manager of school refurbishments.
There will also be PMOs in charge of procedures at the Health Department, the retirement systems, for communications and documents sent to the board and creditors, “new government initiatives” and “outsourcing services,” the public affairs secretary said.
Although requested Thursday night by the members of the board, Rosario said the meeting wasn’t to address an emergency or or some urgent concern. “Rather, it was aimed at establishing communication channels,” said the official, adding that the last such meeting between the board and the governor occurred about a month ago.
“In the discussion, the board members and members of the executive [branch] expressed the importance of having channels of effective communication between the two entities in order to overcome Puerto Rico’s fiscal challenges…. The participating members [of the board] thanked the governor for the meeting and called it a productive one for the implementation of the fiscal plan,” he said.
Rosario added that the governor insisted to the board that he will oppose a unilateral reduction of public employees working hours or eliminating the Christmas bonus because it would, in his opinion, violate section 205 of the federal Promesa law.
Although language was included in the certified budget to implement the reduction of working hours if the government does not comply with some parameters, Rosario said that “under section 205, they can put the language they want, but it is a recommendation that the Governor has to accept. He won’t accept the workday reduction.”
“The approved budget has the allocation to ensure that every public employee is retained and paid thier full day…. The legal position is that no matter where they put it, the governor of Puerto Rico would have to consent to that. The governor will not accept that; were the moment to arrive, as the members of the board have said, it will be a court that determines it,” he added.
In the board’s eighth meeting, Carrión stressed that if the government failed to present evidence of how to implement the austerity measures described in the fiscal plan and the budget, the furlough would be put into effect in September, a matter the board is willing to take to court.
The lack of specific data on the implementation of these measures was one of the issues signaled out by the board with respect to about $200 million of the $440 million in budget spending reductions, according to a letter from the board to the government on June 27.