Thursday, March 22, 2018

Puerto Rico resident commissioner expects more federal funds for island

By on March 6, 2018

SAN JUAN – Puerto Rico’s resident commissioner in Washington, D.C., Jenniffer González, said Monday evening that the island could receive new federal fund allocations in the coming months to address the crisis caused by hurricanes Irma and Maria, which made landfall in September.

At the conclusion of his second State of the Commonwealth address Gov. Ricardo Rosselló, the congressional representative said the “multibillion-dollar appropriations of federal funds approved” by President Trump’s administration will help to begin “to move the wheel of economic development in Puerto Rico.”

Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González (Courtesy)

“Those shouldn’t be the last assignments. On the contrary, we foresee that now, in the month of March or April, there will be new assignments from the federal Congress, and we are still working with federal agencies on additional allocations in other supplementary ones,” explained González.

The spokeswoman of the local government in Congress stressed that the importance of Rosselló’s message this year falls on measures that will be passed by the legislative bodies shortly such as tax reform, which has not been filed, and the privatization of the Electric Power Authority (Prepa), announced 44 days ago.

At a press conference after the governor’s speech, she said it was necessary “that the Legislative Assembly can channel, through its oversight phase, its phase of amendments in government agency procedures, the new public policy that seeks to ensure that [aid] reaches the people who need it.”

Puerto Rico governor delivers State of the Commonwealth address

To questions about the power of the island’s fiscal oversight board to approve or reject measures that have an economic impact, González stressed that the governing body was created to fix the government’s finances and its access to markets, thus the board’s work should not include power over local government mandates.

While acknowledging that some rivalry between the Rosselló administration and the fiscal board may continue, González said both should put aside their differences and demand the U.S. Treasury’s disbursement of the congressionally approved $4.7 billion loan to Puerto Rico.

The resident commissioner also assured that the commonwealth government does not have to ask the fiscal board for permission to approve measures such as an annual salary increase of $1,500 for teachers and police or reducing the sales and use tax (IVU by its Spanish acronym) on prepared foods from 11.5% to 7%.

“The words consultation and authorization are one thing, notification and revision are another,” González said. “All these measures are going to result in having more cash flow, more liquidity. They will also result in small- and midsize-business people who closed after the hurricane to consider reopening.”

‘We don’t work for the board’

In the same press conference, Senate President Thomas Rivera Schatz again attacked the fiscal board, its budget and Executive Director Natalie Jaresko’s salary, and declared that the Legislature does not work for the board.

To questions by Caribbean Business about how the government expects to pay the teacher and police officer salary increase, House Speaker Carlos “Johnny” Méndez assured that the savings achieved in government agencies by Rosselló’s team would allow him to fulfill his promise.

Energy Commission sues to reassert regulatory power over Puerto Rico electric utility

“The financial resources that we will be working with later on are there, but the governor promised it and this Legislative Assembly will make that commitment happen,” Méndez stressed.

With regard to the fiscal board’s power to approve the wage increases, Rivera Schatz said the panel’s positions have “already cost us a lot.”

“We don’t work for the board, we work for the Puerto Ricans, who were the ones who elected us. The board can have its opinion, but you already heard the governor,” he said, “nothing and no one is going to stop us from making a better Puerto Rico possible.”