Gov. Vázquez: My hands are clean
SAN JUAN – “My hands are clean.” Thus began on Thursday, Governor Wanda Vázquez Garced’s first budget and state address, delivered at the Antonio Paoli Festival Hall of the Center for Performing Arts of Santurce.
“The only government loyalty has to be with you,” Vázquez Garced said.
“I have clean hands to achieve the change you want and deserve,” the also New Progressive Party gubernatorial hopeful, who added “I have no debts with anyone.”
The governor announced a budget of around $10.2 billion for fiscal year 2021.
Regarding the budget presented by the executive director of the Financial Oversight and Management Board (FOMB), Natalie Jaresko, the governor replied to her statements.
“Collaborating does not mean giving everything up… At the beginning of the year, we began discussions with the Fiscal Oversight Board to establish a new Fiscal Plan that would better meet the needs and contemplate the new reality of our people. I have always defended the people, Justice is my goal, and that is why we have sued the Board… because its decisions not only impact the administration, but also the economic future of everyone. With unknown intentions, the Board tried to advance yesterday details of the budget that it would present today. Know that, despite this, I reaffirm that I will defend the benefits of public employees that were not budgeted for or approved by them,” Vázquez Garced said.
Vázquez Garced pointed out on the matter of education, several items that were assigned to the Department of Education, with an additional $176 million allocation, and permanence granted to 1,732 education workers, in addition to having begun “a labor justice process” to grant the first 400 permanencies to the assistants of special education services, known as T1.
She announced that senior year students in public and private schools who have enrolled in a post-secondary institution will be given an incentive of $1,000 to purchase technology equipment.
As for the University of Puerto Rico (UPR), she said she canceled the tuition and fee raises scheduled for the new academic year, allocating an additional $55 million to mitigate the impact of COVID-19, in addition to $20 million to implement the Classification and Compensation Plan for non-teaching staff, among other measures.
Another announcement by Vázquez Garced was the expansion of the Plan Vital government health insurance coverage, which will include 200,000 people who do not have a health plan.
Regarding economic development, the governor mentioned that, to attract new investment in manufacturing and the pharmaceutical industry, she will create a work group in conjunction with the resident commissioner, Jenniffer González, for which she offered her support to HR 6443.
On another matter, she assured that she will pay the Christmas Bonus to public employees this year.
“It was eliminated by the Board in this budget. Our administrations have distinguished themselves for social reform and we are not going to back down. When Don Luis A Ferré signed this law, what he wanted from that moment until today, was to level the inequality that the wages of workers represent. Today, I reiterate that I will not change my position, I advance that we will identify the savings so that public workers receive their Christmas bonus. Let it be clear, there will be a Christmas bonus!” she declared.
In addition, she strongly urged o the legislature to approve the Uniform Compensation Plan.
“This plan is the culmination of the largest transformation process of the personnel management system in this century. The Board did not accept our request for what we believe there is no justification. This plan does not consist of, nor does it represent a mere increase in salary for employees. This is the most important labor reform in the past 30 years, once the Single Employer legislation has been approved and the Classification Plan has been worked on, it is time to address the Compensation Plan now. It has been enough. It is not reasonable to continue unloading all the fiscal cuts against public employees. The measure for remuneration is necessary and urgent. I call on this legislature to join this call for labor justice,” she said.
She mentioned she will try to ensure that health insurers promptly pay for medical services, a matter for which she will call an extraordinary session to establish a Special Commission.
“If we want to retain our health professionals, doctors, nurse, technicians and that our people receive the best services… Colleagues, the time has come to be on the patient’s side. For this reason, I request the legislative presidents to create a joint commission to address this issue immediately and I will be convening an extraordinary session to address this and other issues,” she said.