House Speaker pushes economic agenda in Puerto Rico Legislature
SAN JUAN – While it is still unclear when the government administration will present its economic proposals before the Legislature, Puerto Rico House Speaker Carlos Méndez introduced Wednesday a series of measures to provide relief to the island’s financial crisis.
During the Chamber of Commerce’s second annual conference on the Promesa law, Méndez said “fiscal and budgetary matters must be worked on in a transparent and orderly manner, ensuring that the most important essential services have the priority they deserve.”
The speaker presented six proposals he hopes will help improve Puerto Rico’s economic situation: transformation of tax incentive platforms; allocation of additional resources to the tourism sector; restructuring the education system; strengthening the island’s competitiveness; improving communication with creditors; and exploring new sources of financing.
The year “2017 will always be remembered as [when] all elements aligned for a perfect storm to strike us,” Méndez said, alluding to the fiscal control board, the federal tax reform, and the onslaught of hurricanes Irma and Maria in September.
Without offering specific details on the content of his proposals regarding tourism, Méndez highlighted that the priority should be to promote the island in the areas “where we can be better than the competition.” It is undetermined what resources or funds would be assigned to the tourism sector under this initiative.
Regarding the restructuring of education “at all its levels,” Méndez said that “in 2000, there were around 700,000 [public] students and today we have fewer than half that number.”
Student loss in the public education system was accentuated after the passage of Hurricane Maria, when more than 22,000 children left before the end of the last semester.
Méndez also stressed that “structural reforms are necessary to make private investment viable and promote sustainable economic development for which there is confidence.” As an example, he mentioned the anticipated tax reform, which in his opinion should simplify “substantially our tax system” and include reductions in corporate and individual rates.
On the island’s electricity system, which today still has more than 30 percent of its customers without service, Méndez emphasized the need to transform the system managed by the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (Prepa) to provide “certainty” to the public that they will not face another blackout for an additional 100 days.
Méndez’s other priorities include assuring retirees’ pensions, providing greater autonomy to the municipalities, measuring the efficiency of tax incentives and putting on track before the fiscal oversight board various proposals made by the Congressional Task Force on Economic Growth in Puerto Rico.
“In 2018, we will rewrite our history, improve and change the things that were done wrong in the past, taking advantage of the current situation after Irma and Maria,” the House speaker said during his message at Condado Plaza Hilton hotel in San Juan.