Legislative leaders express total rejection of fiscal board
SAN JUAN – The fiscal oversight board is exceeding the powers it was granted by the federal Promesa law and doesn’t have a say regarding the Legislative Assembly’s budget, both Puerto Rico House Speaker Carlos “Johnny” Méndez and Senate President Thomas Rivera Schatz said separately Thursday.
A few minutes after it was learned the oversight board had rejected Gov. Ricardo Rosselló’s fiscal plan, the House speaker reacted with surprise and defiance, and expressed dissatisfaction and completely rejected the board’s suggestion to cut the legislature’s budget by 20%.
“So far, the Promesa law I read makes no reference to the legislature, so any inference drawn by the fiscal control board about the legislature is it exceeding its faculties under law,” Méndez said.
The speaker pointed out that the legislature’s budget is less than 1% of the government budget and even so adjustments and cuts have been made to both chambers. He also called the board’s recommended healthcare cuts unreasonable.
“We reject the recommendation to restrict our people’s access to health services. Currently, the public health insurance program, better known as ‘Mi Salud,’ covers 1.6 million people with limited resources, people who would not have access to healthcare were benefits to be reduced. The board does not present any concrete options to address this situation,” Méndez said.
Meanwhile, Rivera Schatz said that “regardless of the board’s view,” the Senate has cut spending substantially.
“In December 2016, total Senate spending hovered at $808,000. During the month of January, Senate spending was reduced specifically to $418,424 and in February reduced to $250,048. There is a more than 50% spending cut here. In terms of payroll and contracts, it’s also much less. These numbers are certified and no one can refute them,” the Senate president said.
How about the board’s recommendation that the legislature’s budget be cut by 20%, Caribbean Business asked.
“A recommendation made by someone with pretensions of Roman emperor, those are their recommendations. I work for the people of Puerto Rico and we’ll see what happens. The board is not necessary. The board behaves differently than the demands it makes on the government. For example, it costs us $3 million every month, carries out its meetings at the El Conquistador hotel in Fajardo; now, on Monday, they’ll hold an event in New York, where security for that meeting costs the government of Puerto Rico $200,000. On account of what? With what morals?” he questioned.
Rivera Schatz went further, stating that the biggest government expense is the fiscal board.
“The highest and most futile government spending is the fiscal control board. If they had any shame…they would resign and leave Puerto Rico,” he said.
For his part, Eduardo Bhatia, who is the Senate’s former president and now its minority whip, said the oversight board’s rejection of the governor’s fiscal plan was due to a lack of “credible numbers.”
“[On Wednesday] I anticipated that the board would not accept that fiscal plan because the numbers aren’t robust, they aren’t enough for liquidity,” Bhatia said. “The recommendations they give are dramatic and I would like the governor to present other alternatives.”
Regarding the suggestion of cutting the Legislative Assembly’s budget, Bhatia said that at the moment “there are terrible excesses and terrible contracts have been seen.”