Passed substitute bill would give Puerto Rico towns $1 million each to recover from hurricanes

SAN JUAN — Without major debate, the House of Representatives passed Monday a substitute bill, authored by Senate President Thomas Rivera Schatz, that assigns $1 million to each of Puerto Rico’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.”

From left, House Treasury Committee Chairman Antonio Soto, Senate President Thomas Rivera Schatz and House Speaker Carlos Méndez (Juan J. Rodríguez/CB)

The Rosselló administration’s original proposal 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 greatest 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 spokesperson for the Puerto Rican Independence Party, Rep. Denis Márquez, was the only representative to vote against the bill. His counterpart in the Senate, Sen. Juan Dalmau, also opposed the bill.

“This fund shall be capitalized from the Treasury Single Account of the Treasury Department for the amount of $78 million. The director of the Office of Management & Budget will have to identify the corresponding budget account to comply with the capitalization of this fund,” the bill reads.

Economic impact of hurricanes Irma, Maria on Puerto Rico pegged at over $40 billion

The legislation provides that the government may provide Municipal Emergency Aid until June 30. It is unknown whether Rosselló will sign the bill.

Public Order Code strengthened

The Senate also passed a bill to centralize within the Police Bureau the adaptation of the Public Order Codes and to allow state and municipal police to issue fines for violations of these ordinances.

Senate Bill 848 states that the Public Order Codes “are regulatory frameworks aimed at improving the quality of life of our citizens, which in turn is of the utmost priority to this Legislative Assembly.”

The bill transfers to the Public Safety Department the ordinances in each municipality to the new Public Order Codes Unit, which will be ascribed to the Police Bureau.

“This is an extremely important bill for the times we are living in Puerto Rico,” Sen. Henry Neumann said, alluding to the rise in criminal activity across the island. “This is an emergency measure, as with everything that has to do with public safety.”

The bill was introduced in response to the elimination of the Municipal Affairs Commissioner’s Office, which was tasked with the administering the codes. Neumann said this left the implementation of the program in the air.

Sixty-three of the island’s 78 towns employ the program. With the bill, funds from the issued fines will be exclusively for implementing the program.

“The total of the administrative fines will be paid and entered into the coffers of the corresponding municipality in a separate account; whose use of funds will be strictly for the operation of the Public Order Code program,” the legislation reads.

Puerto Rico Senate to open Washington office next week

Sen. Eduardo Bhatia, the Popular Democratic Party (PDP) minority leader, presented an amendment to allow towns to use these funds as they see fit because “the municipalities are bankrupt,” he said.

“I think it is limiting the power of the Municipal Assembly to use these funds,” Bhatia argued. However, after a discussion with the majority, he decided to withdraw the amendment, as municipalities need a secured source of funds to implement the program.


Puerto Rico Senate to open Washington office next week

SAN JUAN — Three months after passing a measure over minority lawmaker objections, the Puerto Rico Senate is set to inaugurate the Federal, Social and Economic Affairs Office in Washington, D.C., next week, New Progressive Party (NPP) majority Sen. Carmelo Ríos confirmed Monday.

Although the Senate budget allocation has yet to be revealed, Ríos told Caribbean Business that the office’s operational costs would be less than paying for a lobbyist, which could be about $30,000 a month.

Sen. Carmelo Ríos (File Photo)

“There will be metrics. The office is designed to have metrics that, once a year, we can render a report and say this is what we spent and this was what was generated thanks to the direct efforts of this office,” the legislator said.

The office, created on the initiative of the NPP majority in the upper chamber, will address efforts related to the executive branch and federal issues that impact Puerto Rico. It will also seek to provide assistance to the commonwealth’s 78 mayors.

“Instead of paying for a lobbyist, which is what is done traditionally—and the Senate has had lobbyists before—we decided to use that money, which costs far less than a lobbyist, with presence and certainly with a mission, which is to be able to seek more funds, have more representation and more presence in Washington,” he added.

Ríos said the new office is important because the island needs a greater presence in the U.S. capital to be able to fully incorporate itself in issues related to the discussion of local development and to be able to establish relationships that can advance Puerto Rico’s interests.

Creatures of U.S. Congress come to grips with Puerto Rico management act

Ríos will travel to Washington next week along with Senate President Thomas Rivera Schatz, several mayors, and representatives of Gov. Ricardo Rosselló and the Popular Democratic Party (PDP) minority caucus in the Senate to inaugurate the office. Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González will also be present.

Senate Resolution 554 was passed at the beginning of the ordinary session in January. The proposal was opposed by Puerto Rican Independence Party Sen. Juan Dalmau, independent Sen. José Vargas Vidot and several PDP legislators, including Senate Minority Speaker Eduardo Bhatia and Sen. José Luis Dalmau.

Puerto Rico governor submits fiscal plans minus oversight board requests

After being appointed by Rivera Schatz, the office’s executive director is expected to be announced next week to see to matters related to the island’s status and the actions of the Financial Oversight & Management Board that “have an impact on the Legislative Assembly.”

“The secretary of the Administration of the Senate of Puerto Rico is hereby directed to identify the funds necessary for the creation and operation of the office,” the bill reads. The office may incur expenses related to professional, technical, clerical and consulting contracts.

Puerto Rico governor reiterates ‘colonial relationship’ with U.S. amid rift with fiscal board

SAN JUAN – Gov. Ricardo Rosselló reiterated Thursday his position regarding Senate Resolution 215, which would halt the government’s disbursement of operational funds for Puerto Rico’s fiscal oversight board, saying the priority should be to prevent the federally established panel from wresting the commonwealth government’s powers.

“The 3.4 million U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico know well that one of the most important pillars of democracy and the Republican form of government is representation,” the governor said in a statement.” The United States of America broke with imperialism long ago to create a system based on recognizing the will of the people while preserving the rule of law. Unfortunately, the U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico have lived under a political system where these essential values are reduced and encumbered under a territorial status and colonial relationship with the United States Federal Government. As such, we demand equal treatment for every U.S. citizen residing on the Island.

“I support our local Legislature in exercising its important duty of representing the People of Puerto Rico. As they fulfill their responsibility, I am also called to execute my duties under local and federal law, including PROMESA. This federal statute was enacted to accomplish three main objectives: (1) fiscal discipline, (2) regain access to the capital markets, and (3) promote economic development while ensuring essential services to the People of Puerto Rico.

“I remain committed to achieving those objectives, meeting my responsibilities under applicable law and promoting the best interest of our people. Observing these duties does not contradict our opposition to any overreach by the Financial Oversight and Management Board (FOMB) when attempting to exercise powers and authority preserved for the duly elected Government of Puerto Rico. The duty of the FOMB is to also observe…PROMESA and work alongside the Government of Puerto Rico in finding fiscal solutions for our continued dire situation.”

During a press conference Wednesday, Rosselló’s reply to the media’s first question on the matter was: “Puerto Rico is a jurisdiction of law and order. I respect the power that the Legislative Assembly has to express itself and to establish what its points of view and vision are. The truth is we are going to be struggling and we are facing the board on matters that are going above the law.”

To a follow-up question, Rosselló reiterated that the island “is a jurisdiction of law and order,” and recalled that the federal Promesa law establishes that Puerto Rico defray the expenses incurred by the fiscal board, which currently has a $60 million budget.

Puerto Rico Senate passes resolution to stop funding fiscal board

While House Speaker Carlos “Johnny” Méndez and Senate Thomas Rivera Schatz watched with seriousness the action far from the podium–unlike their usual, shoulder to shoulder positions with the governor–Rosselló maintained that the steps to fight the board together would be determined “facing the future.”

“To defend the principles of democracy in Puerto Rico and to defend all Puerto Ricans, we won’t leave any initiative without revisiting [it] to ensure we can achieve those goals,” he added.

Growing exasperated Wednesday, the governor was emphatic that his administration does not have to do “anything else at this time,” because it has already taken the first step of refuting the fiscal board’s demands with letters to the panel and Congressman Rob Bishop.

Gov. Rosselló urges U.S. Rep. Bishop to consider all parties under Promesa

At the insistence of the media to learn his position regarding the resolution, authored by Puerto Rican Independence Party Sen. Juan Dalmau, the governor repeated that his only interest is that the government not be deprived of its powers to establish public policy.

“Looking ahead, we will do everything we can to prevent the power of the government of Puerto Rico from being taken, that the people be abused and that onerous measures that don’ benefit our people be taken,” he replied.

“Looking ahead, I’ve already said it, no, no…. Maybe another follow-up question comes to that end, but I’m already alerting you… I’m answering youñ if you listen well, I’m answering. […] Looking ahead, all alternatives are on the table,” he added.

At the end of the press briefing after a legislative conference of just over an hour, the House speaker said he had not seen Senate Joint Resolution 215 and left for his office without giving any more details.

On Tuesday, the governor stressed he would do “whatever,” including going to jail, to face the board’s impositions. On Wednesday, did not answer if he would take immediate action to stop disbursing funds to the panel created by Promesa.

No fear

Asked whether he feared that the board would lift the protection provided by Promesa under Title III, and that would leave the government exposed to creditor lawsuits, the governor replied: “Why would we be afraid? Where we elected to be afraid? Whoever is afraid should go home.”

The governor identified 48 board demands and said he would consider those of a fiscal nature, but not those of public policy. He explained that the changes to the fiscal plan he will submit to the fiscal panel Thursday focus on the “macroeconomic base,” as the distribution of resources and when these are allocated.

“We aren’t in a confrontation against the board,” said, contradicting himself before indicating later during the conference that “we are having this confrontation with the board,” but saying, “We are in a confrontation in favor of defending the people of Puerto Rico, which are two different concepts.”

On Thursday, the governor will again submit his fiscal plan to the board, after the entity had returned it and requested revisions before it could be certified.

“We believe we have a robust, viable fiscal plan that addresses a series of historical cuts, not only for Puerto Rico, but for any jurisdiction in the United States,” he said without giving further details about the document.

Senate president proposes setting Puerto Rico government salary cap at $60,000

Senate president proposes setting Puerto Rico government salary cap at $60,000

SAN JUAN – Senate President Thomas Rivera Schatz filed legislation Wednesday to establish a maximum salary of $60,000 at all Puerto Rico government branches, including for agency heads, mayors and lawmakers.

Senate Bill 883, which was recently filed with the Office of Legislative Procedures and would create the Uniform Salary Act of the Government of Puerto Rico, “will take effect on January 1, 2021.”

This means that, if enacted by Gov. Ricardo Rosselló, the current salaries of government officials, including those of several secretaries who make $250,000 to $450,000, would not be affected until after the next elections.

Senate President Thomas Rivera Schatz (Felipe Torres / CB)

During a turn on the resolution that proposes to stop the disbursement of funds to the island’s fiscal oversight board, Rivera Schatz questioned the “act of pure hypocrisy” of several Popular Democratic (PDP) and Puerto Rican Independence (PIP) party minority lawmakers who, in his opinion, want to reduce the salary “of the whole world, except theirs.”

The New Progressive Party majority senate president referred to House Bill 1507 of PDP Reps. Luis Vega Ramos and Ramón Luis Cruz Burgos, which proposes a $73,745 annual salary for agency heads and $90,000 for the secretary of State.

“I’m going to propose that we do something better,” Rivera Schatz said. “We will propose that all salaries of the Government of Puerto Rico–in the executive branch, in the legislative branch, in the judicial branch, in corporations and municipalities–cannot exceed $60,000. Let’s see if it’s true they vote in favor of it.”

Puerto Rico Senate passes resolution to stop funding fiscal board

While most lawmakers earn $73,775 annually, the spokespeople and chairpeople of the Treasury and Government committees of each chamber make $84,841.

Meanwhile, the speaker of the House of Representatives and the Senate president earn $110,663 each, according to Act 97 of 1968, which dictates the salaries of legislators. The governor makes $70,000 a year.

“I’m going to present the bill, and I’m going to bring it here, and I’m going to vote in its favor, but everyone has to support it, and everyone earns $60,000 as the cap. And we are going to see if the patriots of the House [back it], who want to lower the salary of agency heads but don’t want to lower theirs,” Rivera Schatz said, adding, “That’s an act of pure political hypocrisy.”

The Senate president said his bill could be addressed in the session scheduled for Monday. Despite seeking it “apply now,” article 6 of the proposal established that it would come in effect in 2021.

Currently, the secretaries of the departments such as Justice, Health, Agriculture, Housing and Labor are more than $100,000 a year. Public Safety Secretary Héctor Pesquera, Education Secretary Julia Keleher and the executive director of Puerto Rico’s destination marketing organization, Brad Dean, are all paid more than $250,000 a year.

Puerto Rico Senate passes resolution to stop funding fiscal board

SAN JUAN – With the endorsement of all caucuses, the Puerto Rico Senate passed Wednesday a resolution authored by Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP) spokesman Juan Dalmau, to stop the disbursement of funds to the island’s fiscal oversight board.

In an unexpected move, the upper chamber addressed Senate Joint Resolution 215 a few minutes before a legislative conference was held with Gov. Ricardo Rosselló at the Capitol.

“This measure was filed on April 2 of the current [year] in order to respond in a dignified and firm manner to what has been a caravan of abuse, disparagement and exploitation by the fiscal control board with respect to the people of Puerto Rico,” Dalmau declared.

PIP Sen. Juan Dalmau (Courtesy)

The pro-independence senator added that the entity in charge of the island’s finances proposes austerity and “dismantling the system,” and that it acts “as if they did not have a belt to tighten,” adding, “This measure is for the government to respond.”

According to the measure, “The Secretary of the Treasury is ordered to, during the current fiscal year, and the two subsequent fiscal years, not carry out disbursements for salary payments, operational expenses and/or hiring of services…” to the fiscal board.

New Progressive Party (NPP) Majority Leader Carmelo Ríos said that, despite having previously expressed that the measure was not a viable option, the Senate’s position changed because “we are ready,” adding, “A clash between the government and the board is inevitable. Today is the first step.”

Ríos further said: “The fiscal control board costs more than the House and the Senate combined. In fact, they cost more [money] and don’t produce anything…. If Congress believes the board is so necessary, let them pay for it.”

Senator proposes stopping Puerto Rico fiscal board funding

Meanwhile, NPP Sen. Migdalia Padilla spoke of the need for the Senate, the House and La Fortaleza, the governor’s workplace, to form a common front to fight the fiscal board.

“Once again, the Senate of Puerto Rico says enough is enough to the abuses of the fiscal control board,” she stressed, “In order to be able to address this, there must be a commitment from all parties: Senate, House and the executive [branch].”

Senate President Thomas Rivera Schatz said that the senators’ responsibility does not depend on the opinion or action of others. He added that, were it not to become law, those who supported the measure in the Senate will be able to “look Puerto Ricans in the eye” certain that they defended their interests.

Puerto Rico Statistics Institute nears consolidation

“Whether Senate Joint Resolution 215 becomes law or not, that remains to be seen, but that is not the cardinal, what’s cardinal is the message we want to send from here, so that they clearly understand we don’t give in and that we respond to the people who elected us, and that we defend Puerto Rican citizens,” he said.

As a joint resolution, the measure would need to be passed by the House and approved by the governor, who said Tuesday he was willing to do whatever was necessary when disagreeing with the federally established fiscal board.

“Does the governor [dare] sign this?” Popular Democratic Party Sen. Cirilo Tirado questioned. “If the [governor] has truly has will, let him start today and stop the disbursements to the fiscal control board and not acknowledge it any power in Puerto Rico,” he concluded.

The resolution was approved in a roll-call vote. The NPP and PDP delegations joined as co-authors of the measure, which was passed unanimously.

Senate passes resolution to reinstate Puerto Rico Constitution Day

Puerto Rico Statistics Institute nears consolidation

SAN JUAN – The Puerto Rican Senate on Monday passed Reorganization Plan 7, which would place the Statistics Institute under the Economic Development and Commerce Department (DDEC by its Spanish initials) umbrella despite continued questioning of the move, including from the U.S. Congress.

According to the governor’s office, La Fortaleza, the consolidation of the institute and four other offices under the DDEC, as well as the “successive consolidation of the Trade & Export Co. [CCE by its Spanish initials] and the Tourism Company” would achieve $7.8 million in savings the first year and $96 million in the next five years.

In March, the Senate passed a resolution to express that “there is no agreement with the House” on the plan approved Monday, and extended for 15 additional days the measure’s original evaluation period.

In a statement Tuesday, the Statistics Institute said it agrees that “several divisions of statistics from different entities can be consolidated to achieve cost efficiencies, and the Institute is ready to assume these functions under the right circumstances. In fact, we are at the Governor and the Legislative Assembly’s service to develop a Reorganization Plan for the Statistics System that consolidates these functions in an independent institution.

House passes Puerto Rico Statistics Institute consolidation bill

“However, the aforementioned Reorganization Plan #7 also proposes to eliminate all the independent governance structures of the Institute and transfer them to the Secretary of the Department of Economic Development and Commerce, and then outsource the statistical functions. This is not how the problems with the statistics of Puerto Rico can be solved.

“Thousands of people, 16 members of Congress, the Private Sector Coalition, the Transparency Network, the American Statistical Association and even the Fiscal Oversight Board have recommended that the Institute remains an autonomous entity of the Government of Puerto Rico and independent, free of political intervention.

“We urge the Legislative Assembly to carefully weigh the draft laws. We are once again at your disposal,” the institute added.

US reps reject proposed reorganization of Puerto Rico Statistics Institute

In addition, the Senate also passed Monday Reorganization Plan 10 to consolidate in the Department of Natural and Environmental Resources (DNER) the functions of the Environmental Quality Board (EQB), the Solid Waste Authority and the National Parks Program of the Sports and Recreation Department.

“The savings and/or projected efficiencies with the implementation of this plan are estimated at over $6 million for the first year and approximately $56 million for the next five years,” the 10-page document submitted by La Fortaleza states.

The debate over both plans extended past 8 p.m. The reorganization of the DDEC now goes to the governor’s desk for enactment. It is up to the House to approve the DNER plan.

American Statistical Association: Don’t dismantle Puerto Rico Statistics Institute

Senate passes resolution to reinstate Puerto Rico Constitution Day

SAN JUAN – The Puerto Rican Senate passed a measure Monday to reinstate July 25 as a holiday in commemoration of the island’s Constitution, after it had been eliminated by Gov. Ricardo Rosselló to instead celebrate it as American Citizenship Day.

Senate Bill 460–authored by Sen. Miguel Romero, of the governor’s New Progressive Party (NPP)–states that the Constitution of the Commonwealth laid the foundation of “our island and grants the rights that protect…us since its promulgation.”

The traditional holiday, celebrated for more than 60 years, was annulled by the governor in April 2017 when he enacted the Fiscal Plan Compliance Act. The law lists 15 holidays for public employees.

Puerto Rico Statistics Institute nears consolidation

“July 25 has been a day commemorated by the Government of Puerto Rico in celebration of the historic feat by illustrious Puerto Ricans when drafting our Constitution as a vanguard document that protects the rights of all,” the measure’s explanatory statement reads.

NPP lawmakers voted in favor of the proposal despite some being staunch opponents of the island’s “colonial situation” as a territory of the United States, which granted citizenship to Puerto Ricans 101 years ago.

After introducing the measure, Romero said in a statement that his intention comes about “out of respect for our people” and because the Constitution “reflects the democratic principles of the people of Puerto Rico.”

During a speaking turn on the Senate floor, the legislator thanked his delegation for their vote and said the party’s approval reflects “political maturity.”

Senator proposes stopping Puerto Rico fiscal board funding

Romero filed the measure on May 4, five days after the governor eliminated the holiday. A report from the Senate Government Committee amended the legislation to also restore José Celso Barbosa Day (July 27), which the government of former Gov. Alejandro García Padilla eliminated in 2014.

Another amendment declares Abolition Day (March 22), the Day of Puerto Rican Culture and the Discovery of Puerto Rico (Nov. 19) as commemorative days, thus eliminating them from the list of holidays.

The change was opposed by Puerto Rican Independence Party minority Sen. Juan Dalmau and Popular Democratic Party Minority Leader Eduardo Bhatia. Despite his resistance, Bhatia said his party’s caucus in the chamber would vote in favor of the measure.

“The day of the Constitution, I believe, democratically, regardless of being called Free Associated State or whatever, regardless of the relationship with the United States, Puerto Rico has a Constitution that gives democratic rights,” the minority spokesman said.

The bill now goes to the House of Representatives for consideration. If passed, it would then be sent to the governor’s desk for enactment. Senate President Thomas Rivera Schatz urged the lower chamber and the governor to approve the legislation.

Bill that would consolidate Puerto Rico Energy Commission passed by House

Senator proposes stopping Puerto Rico fiscal board funding

SAN JUAN — Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP) minority Sen. Juan Dalmau presented Monday a resolution to order Treasury Secretary Raúl Maldonado to stop disbursements to the Financial Oversight & Management Board established by the Promesa federal law.

Joint Senate Resolution 215 defines as disbursements the “salaries, operational expenses, [and] contracting of services” that the entity in charge of overseeing the island’s finances incurs in the current and next two fiscal years.

PIP Sen. Juan Dalmau (Courtesy photo)

Dalmau argued that his proposal comes about as a result of complaints his party has made since the enactment of Promesa nearly two years ago, which gained strength with executive and legislative branch claims of fiscal board “abuses.”

“What I’m appealing to is we move from words to action. Words without action are an abominable tease. It is not enough to talk and criticize because that is the same as a ‘letter to the reader,'” the lawmaker told reporters.

The proposal’s explanatory note says the fiscal board’s budget amounts to $60 million for fiscal year 2018, which ends June 30, and requests $80 million for the following year.

“This pattern of misuse of funds, without any benefit for the people, is unacceptable in any country, but especially offensive to a bankrupt system,” reads the resolution, which also criticizes the $625,000 salary of board Executive Director Natalie Jaresko.

As a joint resolution, the measure must be approved by the both the House and Senate and requires the signature of Gov. Ricardo Rosselló for enactment.

Puerto Rico governor rejects measures requested by fiscal board

“If it is truly abusive [the fiscal board]; if it truly operates against the people of Puerto Rico, how is it possible that we accept to pay for and finance those abuses against ourselves? Because that [the budget for the board] is paid by the people of Puerto Rico,” Dalmau said.

On Monday, Senate President Thomas Rivera Schatz again characterized the fiscal board as having “dictatorial ambitions” and said “it hasn’t solved a single problem” since it was established.

“[The fiscal board] demands a fiscal discipline from us that they don’t demand [from] themselves; they file their fiscal and ethical reports late. What’s worse, there are already signs of conflicts of interest against board members. Then they want, nothing more and nothing less than a $20 million increase to their budget,” he said.

The legislature’s consolidated budget for fiscal 2018 amounts to a little more than $84 million, which represents a more than $24 million reduction compared with last fiscal year’s budget of $109 million. More than $47 million in special allocations are added to the current budget.

PDP legislation would cap salaries of P.R. gov’t agencies

SAN JUAN — In response to ongoing criticism about exorbitant salaries of various heads of government agencies and public corporations in Puerto Rico, two lawmakers from the Popular Democratic Party (PDP) presented legislation that would set limits on the incomes these public servants could earn.

The top uniform annual salary would be $73,775 for heads of agencies and public corporations. An exception would be made for the secretary of State, who could earn a maximum of $90,000 annually. The bill also forbids officials from exercising their position as a professional service.

“Leadership in times of crisis is demonstrated by example, and Gov. Ricardo Rosselló is asking for greater sacrifices through austerity measures from Puerto Rican men and women,” said Rep. Luis Vega Ramos, PDP-at large.

Puerto Rico’s legislators are among the highest paid lawmakers in all U.S. jurisdictions. (Eduardo San Miguel Tió/CB)

Both PDP Reps. Vega Ramos and Ramón Luis Cruz Burgos (District 34: Maunabo, Patillas, Yabucoa & part of San Lorenzo) propose top salaries for agency chiefs that would be equal to what Puerto Rican lawmakers make, who receive $73,775 annually—with some exceptions disclosed below. This income is higher than the governor’s salary by $3,775 since that position is paid $70,000 annually by law.

“They should also include lawmakers in the [government’s] pay cuts. Preach by example,” tweeted a user, to which Vega Ramos replied, “In the past four-year term, the [PDP] lawmakers eliminated per diems and transportation benefits, which was 40 percent of our compensation.”

However, not all lawmakers earn $73,775. The House and Senate vice presidents, both NPP at large—Rep. José Torres and Sen. Larry Seilhamer—earn $84,841, as do the spokespeople for each party—House Reps. Gabriel Rodríguez Aguiló (NPP-District 13: Manatí, Ciales, Florida, Barceloneta & Arecibo), Rafael Hernández (PDP-District 11: Dorado, Vega Baja & Vega Alta) and Denis Márquez (Puerto Rican Independence Party [PIP]-at large); and Sens. Carmelo Ríos (NPP-District II: Bayamón), Eduardo Bhatia (PDP-at large) and Juan Dalmau (PIP-at large).

Puerto Rico fiscal plan includes substantial public payroll cut

The chairs of the Treasury and Government committees also earn $84,841—Reps. Antonio Soto (NPP-District 6: Cataño & part of Guaynabo) and Jorge Navarro (NPP-District 5: Aguas Buenas & parts of Guaynabo & Cupey); and Sens. Migdalia Padilla NPP-District 2: Bayamón) and Miguel Romero (NPP-District 1: San Juan).

Senate President Thomas Rivera Schatz and House Speaker Carlos Méndez each earn an annual salary of $110,663, according to Act 87 of 1968.

The proposal by Vega Ramos and Cruz Burgos would equalize the salaries of agency chiefs—from Health and Justice, to Housing and Education—with those of most of the 81 local lawmakers. With an income of $73,775, secretaries would earn $36,888 less than heads of the House & Senate.

Executives of the Rosselló administration earn between $98,000 and $450,000 annually. The latter salary is for the new executive director & chief executive officer of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (Prepa), Walter Higgins III. Education Secretary Julia Keleher earns $250,000 annually.

Six Puerto Rico credit unions claim government defrauded them

“Lawmakers will execute their official and representative functions full time but may earn additional income subject to restrictions that include the prohibition of activities that represent a conflict of interest,” states Act 97. The additional occupation may not exceed 35 percent of the legislative salary.

Among highest paid lawmakers

In the United States, only three jurisdictions offer their lawmakers salaries higher than those granted to Puerto Rican officials. According to the most recent survey by the National Conference of State Legislatures, these states are California ($104,118), Pennsylvania ($86,478) and New York ($79,500).

In Michigan, members of its Legislature receive $71,685, with an additional expense allowance of $10,800 annually. It should be noted that these four states are among the 10 jurisdictions with the largest populations in the United States.

The most recent fiscal plan for the commonwealth states Puerto Rico’s population is about 3.3 million people. In six years, this figure may drop 10.9 percent, following the exodus of residents after hurricanes Irma and Maria. California, the most populous U.S. state, has about 39 million residents; its state Legislature has 120 seats.

Puerto Rican Independence Party demands governor present data to back new labor proposals

In states with a population similar to Puerto Rico’s—Iowa with 3.1 million and Connecticut with 3.6 million—lawmakers’ annual salaries range from $25,000 to $38,000. Even so, this remuneration surpasses teachers’ income, which averages about $22,000 a year.

Amendments end per diem benefits

In 2013, led by then-Gov. Alejandro García Padilla, the Legislature eliminated the per diem compensation of $30,000 per year and the $18,000 transportation stipend from the remunerations. These benefits raised legislators’ minimum wage up to $120,000 annually.

At that time, at-large NPP Rep. María Milagros Charbonier argued that $73,775 was not enough for lawmakers who had to travel to the Capitol from municipalities such as Cabo Rojo on the island’s west coast. The NPP legislators—the minority group at that time—opposed the measure.

Puerto Rican Independence Party demands governor present data to back new labor proposals

SAN JUAN – While in Puerto Rico the Day for the Abolition of Slavery was celebrated, leaders of the Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP) denounced Thursday that a second labor reform announced Wednesday by Gov. Ricardo Rosselló condemns the working class to “modern slavery.”

From party headquarters in San Juan, PIP electoral commissioner Maria de Lourdes Santiago demanded government transparency and to disclose information that explains how the proposed changes will affect the island, including its impact on Treasury’s sales and use tax (IVU by its Spanish acronym) revenue.

“If they don’t want to address the principles of social justice and equity as a minimum, the State is then obliged to present in dollars and cents to the country, firstly, what the effect of the elimination of the Christmas bonus will be; how many workers will be affected; exactly how much money will stop entering the country’s economy during the Christmas period,” the pro-independence leader said.

Sen. Juan Dalmau, Rep. Denis Márquez and former gubernatorial candidate María de Lourdes Santiago (Courtesy)

She further said that Rosselló’s proposal will aggravate outmigration, which increased greatly since Hurricane Maria struck the island in September. “Nobody wants to stay in a country where labor measures are designed to cut benefits,” she added.

“Every time in the last 20 years a measure has been presented that hurts people who have less, that measure is imposed with the promise that this will be the remedy for the crisis,” the PIP senator went on to say, adding that those measures have never been accompanied by data that support their imposition.

Santiago urged workers to be “vigilant of what’s coming,” as many thought that government austerity measures would only affect the public sector, but the new labor reform upsets the private sector.

Governor aligns with board orders

Rep. Denis Márquez, PIP’s spokesperson in the House of Representatives recalled that the island’s fiscal oversight board issued a letter Feb. 5, in which it recommended the government reduce worker benefits. It requested changes to vacation and sick leave, as well as establishing that the Christmas bonus is given at the discretion of the employer.

“The labor reform approved [in January 2017] already destroyed and impinged upon dozens of labor rights. And this one–if the first one’s focus [and] the proposal was aimed at young people, people who were looking for work, people who had just graduated–this one is aimed at all the employees who work in Puerto Rico,” he said.

Márquez stressed that the Labor Transformation and Flexibility Act the governor signed more than a year ago in a laundromat on Loíza Street reduced vacation leave to 12 days a year, after 15 years of work, and that the Christmas bonus would be paid only after 1,350 hours worked.

The new changes proposed by Rosselló, at the request of the fiscal board, reduce vacation and sick leave to seven days each, for a total of 14 days a year. It also proposes to eliminate the Unjust Dismissal Act (Act 80) so employers can dismiss an employee without cause and not be forced to offer monetary compensation.

“The protection of Act 80 is the only mechanism left for the worker in Puerto Rico in an unjustified dismissal, in the event of dismissal,” the lawmaker said. “Act 80, which was what little the working class had remaining, they now seek to eliminate it.”

Senate PIP spokesman Juan Dalmau declared that his party “strongly repudiates” the proposals of the governor who, in his opinion, “repeat the same failed formulas of the past.”

“There is no doubt that this announcement responds to the designs of the fiscal control board,” Dalmau added. “The reality is that what the governor is handing over to the fiscal control board are measures to reduce government spending at the expense of the workers and to be able to pay the bondholders.”

Like countless people who have turned to social media to repudiate the proposed benefit cuts at a time when a $450,000 salary was announced for a new member of Rossello’s cabinet, Dalmau said the governor “has two messages for two Puerto Ricos,” one for a group “elites” and another for the masses.

Private sector unions reject Puerto Rico governor’s labor reform