Friday, August 18, 2017

Puerto Rico Senate President won’t consider consolidating municipalities

By on July 31, 2017

“No bill to eliminate municipalities will pass through this Senate.”

With these words, Senate President Thomas Rivera Schatz, ruled out any bill to either consolidate or eliminate municipalities during the remainder of the administration of Gov. Ricardo Rosselló, even though some argue that the costs of maintaining 78 towns during a financial crisis are excessive.

This, however, does not mean that municipalities could make agreements to consolidate municipal units or services, as has been done by several mayors. “That’s not eliminating municipalities, that is working together,” the Senate leader said.

The Senate president, center, met with about 20 mayors to discuss a municipal summit slated for Aug. 29. At the meeting, he told them he will not eliminate any of Puerto Rico’s 78 municipalities. (Courtesy)

Rivera Schatz’s declarations came after a meeting in his legislative office with the presidents of both the mayors’ Federation and Association, Carlos Molina and Rolando Ortiz, respectively, and 20 other municipal executives, with whom he discussed holding a municipal summit on Aug. 29.

The summit will be the forum at which mayors can present their main concerns after the government eliminated $350 million in so-called “municipal subsidies” and explain these could be addressed, especially through legislative measures. Both mayors’ political groups will meet separately before the summit to determine which points they want to emphasize.

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Rivera Schatz explained in a press conference that his intention is for municipalities to have greater autonomy and discuss the possibility of transferring central government responsibilities to these because they have more contact with the citizenry. Therefore, he supported the possibility of elevating municipal autonomy to a constitutional level, which would need to be consulted with the people.

“It was an excellent meeting. That summit is very important because we can get a lot of legislation done,” said the mayor of Arecibo and president of the Mayors Federation, an entity that gathers municipal leaders affiliated to the New Progressive Party (NPP).

According to the mayor of Cayey and president of the Mayors Association, which groups mayors from the Popular Democratic Party (PDP), the chief concerns to be raised at the summit are related to the municipalities’ relation with the Municipal Revenue Collection Center (CRIM by its Spanish acronym), the Government Development Bank (GDB) and retirement systems.

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They will also discuss the responsibilities the central government cannot address.

Willing to Increase Taxes to Foreign Companies

To address the situation with municipalities, the Senate president suggested the possibility of meeting with foreign controlled corporations in Puerto Rico and discussing the 4 percent tax these pay under Act 154.

“There are some companies that have many benefits. Their benefits are disproportionate. Those people, I think we can summon convene them, there are 13 or 14, and tell them that it is time for them to share the prosperity they have lived in Puerto Rico in this time of crisis with other Puerto Ricans, and to contribute a little more,” Rivera Schatz said, without mentioning Act 154.

Apart from Ortiz and Molina, the meeting was attended by the mayors of Adjuntas, Aguada, Bayamón, Canóvanas, Cataño, Ceiba, Guánica, Guayanilla, Gurabo, Las Marías, Las Piedras, Maricao, Maunabo, Mayagüez, Naguabo, Naranjito, Orocovis, Ponce, San Lorenzo and Trujillo Alto.

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