Mayors propose strengthening municipal governments, reducing central government
SAN JUAN – The profound fiscal adjustments looming for Puerto Rico’s municipalities due to the central government’s fiscal crisis have led mayors to believe that the way to proceed is by strengthening the local governments and significantly reducing the central government.
This was expressed by the mayors of Comerío and Cidra, Josean Santiago and Javier Carrasquillo, respectively, saying it is at the local government level that direct services are provided to citizens. Santiago gave a hypothetical example in which a senior citizen needed a service, but that by the time help arrived, the person had already passed away.
“The local government provides the most direct service and without bureaucracy to citizens, and that example is something that is repeated everyday in many towns,” said Santiago, who was president of the Puerto Rico Mayors Association, which comprises the Popular Democratic Party (PDP) officials.
New Progressive Party (NPP) Mayor Carrasquillo said that agencies such as the Transportation and Public Works Department (DTOP by its Spanish initials), the Tourism Co., the Sports and Recreation Department, and the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture are entities whose services are rarely provided at the municipal level.
“Given this situation, mayors have had to opt for creating our own local agencies to give the service these state agencies are obligated to provide,” Carrasquillo said.
Santiago backed Carrasquillo’s remarks and said that if the municipalities didn’t have their own culture, tourism and public works offices, these services would not be provided at all because the state agencies do not reach the municipalities.
In an interview with Caribbean Business, both mayors favored dismantling the state agencies as soon as possible and that local governments be allowed to offer those services directly to citizens with the respective funds allocated to do so.
They added that the trend in recent years at the legislative level is for functions to be transferred to local government, without allocating the money to cover the expense.
“[If] there are sports and cultural events in our municipalities, it is because we have our respective offices to do so,” said Santiago, reiterating his request that state agencies whose services do not reach the citizenry begin to be dismantled and local governments be strengthened.
Both mayors expressed concern about the impact of the fiscal cuts to be implemented, including about $350 million that used to be allocated to municipal governments, as well with the Government Development Bank, which intends to retain municipal funds.
Last week, the Legislature approved $23.6 million for municipalities and government agencies from the Municipal Improvement Fund, which is fed by the sales and use tax (IVU by its Spanish acronym).
Santiago said these funds would go to the 30 municipalities controlled by NPP administrations, to which Carrasquillo countered that the same had happened during former PDP Gov. Alejandro García Padilla’s administration.
In the last general elections, the PDP won control of 45 of the island’s 78 municipalities, including major cities such as San Juan, Carolina, Caguas and Mayagüez.