GOP Sen. Hatch asks García Padilla to Provide more Information on P.R.’s Fiscal Situation
SAN JUAN – As Congress continues to mull how to help Puerto Rico in dealing with its fiscal and economic crisis, a high-ranking Republican senator sent on Wednesday a letter to Gov. Alejandro García Padilla, asking for a host of information to be delivered no later than March 1.
The chair of the U.S. Senate Finance Committee, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R., Utah), is seeking information that would “prove useful” in how Congress would deal with the Puerto Rico issue. “Unfortunately, it has been challenging to acquire recent verifiable financial information about Puerto Rico’s financial condition,” Hatch wrote.
To this end, the GOP senator is calling for the delivery of the commonwealth’s audited financial statements for fiscal year 2014, which were due last May but have yet to be delivered by the García Padilla administration. Officials have pointed to a number of reasons for the delay, and a draft of the statements is expected to be made public this week.
The commonwealth has been seeking congressional action during the first months of the year, particularly over access to a debt-restructuring mechanism, as it tries to avoid additional defaults amid a steeper debt-service schedule this summer.
While House Speaker Paul Ryan (R., Wis.) has said the lower chamber aims to come up with a solution to the Puerto Rico issue before the end of March, the GOP majority in the upper chamber has been less committed to the matter, although some of them have said they are moving forward on several initiatives to help Puerto Rico.
During a hearing to discuss the federal budget on Wednesday, featuring U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew as witness, Hatch suggested that GOP members in the Senate have already worked on legislation for the commonwealth that could be introduced as soon as March. Along with two other Republican senators, Hatch presented last year a bill that sought to implement a federal fiscal control board on the island, although without access to a debt-restructuring regime. Instead, the bill proposed to tap Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, funds to provide short-term liquidity assistance to Puerto Rico.
Meanwhile, in his letter to the governor, Hatch also requests detailed information on Puerto Rico’s debt and wants to know García Padilla’s take on whether general obligations (GOs) have repayment priority according to the commonwealth’s Constitution. Moreover, he is particularly interested in the island’s main pension systems, which are severely underfunded, with roughly $40 billion in liabilities.
As for expenditures, he asks about the spending-control measures that have been implemented, and how much the Puerto Rico government has paid during the past five years in such areas as healthcare, public housing, welfare and education. Hatch is also following up on the U.S. Treasury’s technical assistance and how exactly it has been provided.
Online: Hatch’s letter to García Padilla