Fiscal Crisis Meetings in La Fortaleza Continue
SAN JUAN — The round of meetings between Gov. Alejandro García Padilla and gubernatorial candidates and representatives from different sectors continued on Wednesday, as La Fortaleza keeps pushing for a united front to achieve favorable congressional action addressing Puerto Rico’s fiscal crisis.
García Padilla is seeking consensus on four elements: that Congress approves a debt-restructuring mechanism, a stay on creditor litigation against the commonwealth, economic development tools, and that a fiscal oversight board wouldn’t supersede Puerto Rico’s democratic process, the governor said.
“There are additional initiatives that each [participant] wants to present and further, and some of them would agree with some of these,” the governor said Wednesday. “But the elements of consensus remain the same.”
Earlier during the day, García Padilla met with independent gubernatorial candidates Alexandra Lúgaro and Manuel Cidre, and both urged for measures that would not only deal with the island’s debt, but also spur much-needed economic development for the island.
The governor also held discussions on Wednesday with Rafael Bernabe (Puerto Rico’s Workers Party or PRWP) and representatives from the United Retailers Association. On Thursday, García Padilla will meet with the Chamber of Commerce, Puerto Rico Manufacturers Associations and Sen. María de Lourdes Santiago (Puerto Rico Independence Party), as well as with other private sector representatives. New Progressive Party (NPP) pre-candidate Dr. Ricardo Rosselló declined to meet with the governor.
Both Lúgaro and Cidre agreed with the governor, while adding that the initiative to seek consensus among candidates to deal with the fiscal crisis is a positive step for Puerto Rico.
“We agree with the governor on all four points he has put forth. It is an initiative that we needed in Puerto Rico for a long time,” said Lúgaro on her way out of La Fortaleza, while adding she asked the governor for certain financial data about the island in order to better assess the situation.
“Puerto Rico needs to recognize that the debt problem is our own making,” said Cidre. “Thus, we have to admit that we have had deficiencies that we have to correct.”
As for Bernabe, he said his party favored restructuring the island’s debt and a stay against creditor lawsuits, yet he was somehow skeptic on how a fiscal oversight board could be drawn up in a favorable way for Puerto Rico. Moreover, although they agree with the need for economic development tools, Bernabe stressed such tools must protect Puerto Rico’s workers and prevent privatization efforts, among other aspects.
The PRWP gubernatorial candidate urged for a broader social movement seeking action from the federal government, and the necessity to conduct an audit of the island’s debt. What’s more, he said the commonwealth must once and for all stop paying the debt and put the services to the people first and foremost.
Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi and Popular Democratic Party (PDP) gubernatorial candidate David Bernier met with the governor on Tuesday, calling the talks productive.
“We will work together to achieve this,” García Padilla said on Tuesday.
The governor’s call for action follows the presentation of draft legislation released Tuesday by the House Natural Resources Committee to tackle the island’s crisis, with a final bill expected to be filed during the second week of April.
“It is only a draft, and we know it won’t be the final product,” Public Affairs Secretary Jesús Manuel Ortiz told reporters Wednesday.
The proposed legislation would establish a strong, independent fiscal oversight board, which would be charged with approving and overseeing budgets, fiscal plans and the commonwealth’s debt-restructuring process. The latter would take place through a mechanism to be established under the Constitution’s territorial clause, and would apply to all types of Puerto Rico debt.
The resident commissioner said preliminary plans call for filing the bill April 11, followed by a committee hearing and markup during the same week. He added that the Republican leadership intends to take the measure to a vote in the lower chamber by the end of the month. As for the Senate, Pierluisi said chances of securing passage for the measure would depend on the bipartisan support it received in the House. If there are only GOP votes approving the bill in the lower chamber, there is very little chance to clear the Senate, he noted.