Mayors Association warns of ‘precarious’ outlook with Rosselló’s fiscal plan
SAN JUAN — Less employees, healthcare services, school infrastructure maintenance, and roadway services are some of the situations that Puerto Rico’s 78 municipalities could face if Gov. Ricardo Rosselló doesn’t consider them in the fiscal plan he must present to the Fiscal Oversight & Management Board by Feb. 28.
That is what Cayey mayor and Puerto Rico Mayors Association (AAPR by its initials in Spanish) President Rolando Ortíz Velázquez warned during a press conference Thursday, in the organization’s headquarters in San Juan.
As indicated by the spokesman of the associated mayors —affiliated to the Popular Democratic Party (PDP)– the Fiscal Oversight & Management Board has ordered the governor to include cuts to municipal subsidies in his fiscal plan. Ortíz Velázquez criticized the chief executive’s alleged lack of interest in establishing dialogue with PDP mayors to take in their input.
“We have information that we can share with the governor, and we are asking him to give us the opportunity to assist in the municipal aspect of the fiscal plan. We consider that vital. The ill-defined municipal subsidy is of $410 million. If the government decides to take subsidies away from municipalities, we would face such a precarious situation that we would have to fire employees, there wouldn’t be resources to work even half-time. We would be in a very unfortunate situation,” assured the AAPR president.
Ortíz Velázquez criticized the governor for not establishing a dialogue with the collective.
“He hasn’t given us the opportunity for us to collaborate in what can be the part of the fiscal plan that will affect municipalities and us. Associate mayors hire a series of professionals that have studied municipal finances, that have been working with them for a long time, and have developed some general lineaments on what can we be mayors’ contribution,” he added, although he didn’t say who those advisers are.
The AAPR’s main proposal for the governor is to consider State subsidy to municipalities in the fiscal plan. PDP mayors assured they are willing to resign to subsidy in exchange for reductions to obligations that the central government has imposed on municipalities, such as taxes collected to fund the island’s health program.
“There are other areas, such as the contribution to the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (Prepa), that, if municipalities were not to allow Prepa to use servitude from where power lines run, those businesses that consume such energy consumption wouldn’t be able to exist. What does that mean? That Prepa wouldn’t exist as a business if it weren’t for municipal property. That payment that Prepa must do to municipalities, we believe it must be retributed and for them to send the contribution instead of the tax,” he said.
The municipal executive said that the government has developed particular laws for contribution to public workers’ retirement systems, but hasn’t taken into consideration the municipalities’ fiscal reality, he stated.
The Cayey mayor added that if Rosselló doesn’t address their claim, the government might make a unilateral decision for lack of knowledge on municipal finances. This could result in the dismissal of hundreds of public workers, and lack of attention to constituents’ basic needs.
However, he affirmed he trusts the Puerto Rico Mayors Federation –which groups municipal executives from the New Progressive Party (NPP)– to establish dialogue with Rosselló.
“We know that they have already met with the governor, and we know that their [their PNP counterparts’] needs and ours are identical in that regard,” he assured when asked if he has tried to establish direct communication with his organization’s NPP counterpart to reach common ground.
“It is time for us to sit and dialogue in order to face the crisis. We have to listen to each other, we have to understand ourselves above partisan politics, because we represent families that belong to all parties, and there is no way to face the crisis and look for a solution if we don’t unite as leaders to look for those avenues of consensus,” he stated.