No agreement between fiscal board and Puerto Rico Legislature
SAN JUAN – Despite dialogue to resolve differences over the budget adopted between the fiscal control board and the legislative presidents, the deadlock related to the cuts to the Legislative Assembly continues, Senate President Thomas Rivera Schatz and Speaker Carlos “Johnny” Méndez reported said Thursday morning.
“There was no agreement. They took our information and we will see,” Rivera Schatz said.
During the meeting, which took place at 8:30 a.m. in Rivera Schatz’s office with fiscal board Chairman José Carrión and members Ana Matosantos and David Skeel, the legislative presidents told them the request to cut $16 million is unfair because the figure is for the allocation of Legislative Donations that go directly to non-profit organizations that provide essential services.
“In the meeting, I asked Carrión which expenses he referred to in the first paragraph of the letter, and they didn’t have a specific spending number. What we posit is that they want to allocate the appropriation of legislative donations that are assigned to the Red Cross, SER de Puerto Rico and for abused women and children as if it were part of the Legislative Assembly’s budget, and that is not correct,” Rivera Schatz said.
Speaker Méndez said that, after their meeting, the fiscal board was clear that the Legislative Assembly cut 9.67 percent.
“We have made a great effort to comply with the fiscal plan; they recognize it, admit it, but…. They did not say which Legislative Assembly item is a duplicate,” Méndez said when referring to the request for additional cuts to the legislative branch.
Both legislative presidents said the hearing scheduled for 2 p.m., to which the fiscal board, the Puerto Rico Fiscal Agency and Financial Advisory Authority and several non-profit organizations were cited, is still going to take place.
Given the deadlock on the cuts, will the board impose its own version of the budget even though you say it took a lot of sacrifice to elaborate? Caribbean Business asked.
“To me, it is non-negotiable to take funds from SER or abused children and women. Pretending that that money [from Legislative Donations] is part of the Legislative Assembly is to turn this into a political issue…. Without specific data, which they don’t say which allocations are duplicated, what is it that’s not sustainable…? It isn’t my request, it is what those that will be affected the most say, and it isn’t the Legislative Assembly,” Rivera Schatz said.
As part of the press conference, the legislative presidents said that the four principal resolutions that comprise the $9.56 billion budget for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1, are already before Gov. Ricardo Rosselló‘s consideration and signature.
Pending in the Legislature are the appropriations from Legislative Donations, and in conference committee, House Bill 1142 to increase permit fees for electronic entertainment machines and generate $69 million in revenue.
“It must be completely clear that the budget approved in the House and Senate comply with the fiscal plan. The $9.562 billion cap established in the fiscal plan is met and not exceeded,” Rivera Schatz said.
Meanwhile, Rep. Antonio “Tony” Soto, chair of the House Treasury & Budget Committee, argued during the press conference that the $16 million cut to the Legislative Assembly requested by the oversight board is “disproportionate” and “unfair.”
“This is a transitional budget. Our budget is zero-based to see the total costs of every agency. In this case, some cuts were made […] The board wants to be sure of the administrative measures but that is up to the executive [branch]. An excess burden is being asked of the Legislative Assembly that is disproportionate and not fair,” Soto stressed.
Furthermore, the Senate president said that the board’s requested cuts, the bulk, are not to the Legislature.
“The judicial branch is contributing zero and the board suggested to increase its budget by $12 million. The challenges to certify the budget do not depend on the $ 16 million that is asked in cuts to the Legislature,” Rivera Schatz added.