Government seeks to avoid layoffs in Legislature
SAN JUAN – The government’s fiscal team was looking for ways to help the legislative branch prevent that the $24 million cut to its budget for fiscal year 2018 results in the layoff of more than 600 public employees, Treasury Secretary Raúl Maldonado said Monday.
“Obviously, that is in the Legislative Assembly’s jurisdiction, but they will look for all possible alternatives so that [the layoff of public employees] does not happen,” Maldonado told Caribbean Business after leaving the weekly meeting with the fiscal team at the governor’s office, La Fortaleza.
Following orders from the fiscal control board, the Legislature’s budget was cut by an additional $13 million to the $11 million it was already reducing for fiscal year 2018, which began July 1. Board Chairman José Carrión III said the reduction was in tune with the cuts at the other government branches, the executive and the judicial.
Faced with the surprising cut, announced Friday at the eighth public meeting of the fiscal board, House Speaker Carlos Méndez anticipated he would have to dismiss about 600 of the more than 1,000 people employed by Legislature. Meanwhile, Senate President Thomas Rivera Schatz did not rule out layoffs. Both argued that they could go to court for the reduction, but have yet to file any legal recourse.
“This was a recent change. Obviously we did not have it on our radar. We are working to avoid the dismissal of any public worker,” insisted the Treasury secretary, who argued that the fiscal team is still analyzing the changes made to the budget before it was certified. This was the first budget approved by the board and the first not signed by the governor.
Maldonado added that the administration is also working on the board’s requirements regarding government cuts to avoid the implementation of the furlough proposed for September and elimination of the Christmas bonus.
What Will Happen to Temporary Employees and the Tax Reform?
Meanwhile, the Treasury official said he didn’t know the number of temporary employees that the government will keep, because that information belongs to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).
After his meeting with the fiscal team, OMB Executive Director José Iván Marrero declined to answer questions from the press. He quickly got into his vehicle, which was driven by a chauffeur, and did not stop or lower the car window. Therefore, it is unknown how many of the roughly 9,000 temporary employee contracts will be renewed.
The Treasury secretary said changes are still being made to the tax reform due to adjustments to the budget that alter operations in certain agencies
“Now in July we are going to adapt some things that happened in the budget with the tax reform, since there were some changes at the level of the agencies’ operations that we hope drafts come out for discussion in July, and it would then be in August [going to Legislative Assembly for its subsequent approval],” he said.
The changes are aimed at ensuring that the tax reform can match the revenue estimates in the fiscal plan and the budget.
The Legislature ended its first session June 30 and will begin its second on the third Monday of August.