Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Fiscal board chairman, executive director meet Puerto Rico’s new governor

By on August 15, 2019

The Puerto Rico fiscal board’s executive director, Natalie Jaresko, and chairman, José Carrión, meet with recently sworn Gov. Wanda Vázquez. (Screen capture)

Say it was to ‘see how we can help her promote stability’ and help ‘with issues we have in common, such as transparency’

SAN JUAN — The Puerto Rico Financial Oversight and Management Board’s chairman, José Carrión, and executive director, Natalie Jaresko, met for the first time Thursday with recently sworn Gov. Wanda Vázquez at the Santa Catalina Palace.

They touched upon a number of topics including Act 29, which exempts municipalities from paying pension and health insurance costs; the public power corporation; funds for the special education program; and government transparency.

In a brief encounter with reporters after the about an hour and 15-minute-long meeting, Carrión said it went “very well.”

“It was a preliminary meeting,” Carrión said, “to see how we can help her promote stability in Puerto Rico, to help her with issues we have in common, such as transparency, and we discussed a number of [other] topics. We didn’t get into specific details on one particular subject, but we touched on a number of issues that are pending to see how we can help her in the future.”

Carrión did say they also spoke about the restructuring of the island’s debt, including the Puerto Rico Electric and Power Authority’s (Prepa), and structural reforms.

Puerto Rico fiscal board Chairman José Carrión and Gov. Wanda Vázquez (Courtesy)

Without going into detail, Carrión said Act 29 was discussed with Vázquez, as well as the vacancy of the governor’s representative to the board, in general terms. Vázquez didn’t mention any specific names as to who she will appoint to be her nonvoting representative.

Senate President Thomas Rivera Schatz introduced Joint Senate Resolution 399, which would allocate $123 million for the Education Department’s Special Education Program. The bill’s statement of motives says the funding is needed due to the fiscal board’s special education budget cut.

Rivera Schatz said the budget approved by the legislature for fiscal year 2020 included $292 million to address special ed, but the board only certified $60 million for that line item.

“The reality is that when we have confronted situations of this nature, we always looked for a way as long as we can address it through a budget distribution or by addressing it directly with the agency head,” Carrión said. “So those meetings are taking place; there is always goodwill and openness.”

Jaresko, meanwhile, said the board already met top Education Department officials and “we have been pulling information together, and we will sit down again as soon as they are ready with more information.”

As for Act 29, Carrión said that in their preliminary discussion, the governor expressed some concerns. “We are in conversations with her,” he said. 

On Wednesday, Arecibo Mayor Carlos Molina told reporters that Vázquez “will be defending Act 29; she said so.”

When asked if he anticipates having a better relationship with Vázquez than with former Gov. Ricardo Rosselló, Carrión said, “Yes, yes,” adding, “We agreed to meet regularly and we are anxious to be able to help her to promote stability in Puerto Rico, with transparency issues and any other way we can help her.”

The chairman said that although Prepa was not discussed in detail, “we all know that without energy there is no economic development.”

Regarding a letter the board sent to Chief Financial Officer Omar Marrero, requesting information about contracts Rosselló awarded by before resigning and that have yet to appear on the Comptroller’s Office website, Jaresko said Marrero indicated he was trying to “get us that information,” but that as of Thursday morning, she hadn’t received it.

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