Puerto Rico legislature sends multimillion-dollar aid bill to governor
SAN JUAN — Puerto Rico’s Senate concurred Tuesday with the amendments made by the House of Representatives two weeks ago to a substitute bill that would grant $1 million to each of the island’s 78 municipalities to cover operational and administrative expenses after the impact of hurricanes Irma and Maria.
The Substitute for Senate Bill 822, which was sent to Gov. Ricardo Rosselló for enactment, creates the Municipal Emergency Assistance Fund to “address the revenue decline as a result of the passage of the hurricanes.”
The Rosselló administration’s original proposal, which was presented to the Legislature in February, established a $100 million fund to grant loans of up to $5 million to every municipality. With Rivera Schatz’s substitute bill, towns won’t have to pay back the amount.
According to the bill’s introduction, the towns with the biggest municipal debt are San Juan ($81.1 million); Carolina; ($37.4 million); Guaynabo ($29.2 million); Bayamón ($24.5 million); and Caguas ($22.9 million).
The proposal was passed in the House with 44 votes in favor and opposition from the spokesman of the Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP), Denis Márquez, who argued that the bill could be hindered by the island’s fiscal oversight board, which has the power to stop measures that require funds.
His counterpart in the Senate, Sen. Juan Dalmau, also opposed the bill was voted on in March, criticizing the legislation as not having “the control mechanisms so mayors don’t turn this into a mega-barrel.”
.Among the amendments by the House committees is that an additional $5 million will be shared equally among the municipalities with a population greater than 95,000.
According to the measure, these municipalities are Arecibo, Bayamón, Caguas, Carolina, Guaynabo, Ponce and San Juan. The amendment increases the amount of funding from $78 million to $83 million and will be capitalized from the Treasury Single Account.
“The reprogramming approved in this measure shall not be subject to the approval of the Fiscal Oversight Board, for they represent the public policy of the Government of Puerto Rico and are in full compliance with Section 303 of the Promesa law,” reads the lower house’s version of the bill.
The piece stipulates that the law will take effect immediately after its approval, and provides that the Government of Puerto Rico will be authorized to provide the Municipal Emergency Assistance until June 30.