Thursday, August 22, 2019

PDP legislation would cap salaries of P.R. gov’t agencies

By on March 27, 2018

SAN JUAN — In response to ongoing criticism about exorbitant salaries of various heads of government agencies and public corporations in Puerto Rico, two lawmakers from the Popular Democratic Party (PDP) presented legislation that would set limits on the incomes these public servants could earn.

The top uniform annual salary would be $73,775 for heads of agencies and public corporations. An exception would be made for the secretary of State, who could earn a maximum of $90,000 annually. The bill also forbids officials from exercising their position as a professional service.

“Leadership in times of crisis is demonstrated by example, and Gov. Ricardo Rosselló is asking for greater sacrifices through austerity measures from Puerto Rican men and women,” said Rep. Luis Vega Ramos, PDP-at large.

Puerto Rico’s legislators are among the highest paid lawmakers in all U.S. jurisdictions. (Eduardo San Miguel Tió/CB)

Both PDP Reps. Vega Ramos and Ramón Luis Cruz Burgos (District 34: Maunabo, Patillas, Yabucoa & part of San Lorenzo) propose top salaries for agency chiefs that would be equal to what Puerto Rican lawmakers make, who receive $73,775 annually—with some exceptions disclosed below. This income is higher than the governor’s salary by $3,775 since that position is paid $70,000 annually by law.

“They should also include lawmakers in the [government’s] pay cuts. Preach by example,” tweeted a user, to which Vega Ramos replied, “In the past four-year term, the [PDP] lawmakers eliminated per diems and transportation benefits, which was 40 percent of our compensation.”

However, not all lawmakers earn $73,775. The House and Senate vice presidents, both NPP at large—Rep. José Torres and Sen. Larry Seilhamer—earn $84,841, as do the spokespeople for each party—House Reps. Gabriel Rodríguez Aguiló (NPP-District 13: Manatí, Ciales, Florida, Barceloneta & Arecibo), Rafael Hernández (PDP-District 11: Dorado, Vega Baja & Vega Alta) and Denis Márquez (Puerto Rican Independence Party [PIP]-at large); and Sens. Carmelo Ríos (NPP-District II: Bayamón), Eduardo Bhatia (PDP-at large) and Juan Dalmau (PIP-at large).

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The chairs of the Treasury and Government committees also earn $84,841—Reps. Antonio Soto (NPP-District 6: Cataño & part of Guaynabo) and Jorge Navarro (NPP-District 5: Aguas Buenas & parts of Guaynabo & Cupey); and Sens. Migdalia Padilla NPP-District 2: Bayamón) and Miguel Romero (NPP-District 1: San Juan).

Senate President Thomas Rivera Schatz and House Speaker Carlos Méndez each earn an annual salary of $110,663, according to Act 87 of 1968.

The proposal by Vega Ramos and Cruz Burgos would equalize the salaries of agency chiefs—from Health and Justice, to Housing and Education—with those of most of the 81 local lawmakers. With an income of $73,775, secretaries would earn $36,888 less than heads of the House & Senate.

Executives of the Rosselló administration earn between $98,000 and $450,000 annually. The latter salary is for the new executive director & chief executive officer of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (Prepa), Walter Higgins III. Education Secretary Julia Keleher earns $250,000 annually.

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“Lawmakers will execute their official and representative functions full time but may earn additional income subject to restrictions that include the prohibition of activities that represent a conflict of interest,” states Act 97. The additional occupation may not exceed 35 percent of the legislative salary.

Among highest paid lawmakers

In the United States, only three jurisdictions offer their lawmakers salaries higher than those granted to Puerto Rican officials. According to the most recent survey by the National Conference of State Legislatures, these states are California ($104,118), Pennsylvania ($86,478) and New York ($79,500).

In Michigan, members of its Legislature receive $71,685, with an additional expense allowance of $10,800 annually. It should be noted that these four states are among the 10 jurisdictions with the largest populations in the United States.

The most recent fiscal plan for the commonwealth states Puerto Rico’s population is about 3.3 million people. In six years, this figure may drop 10.9 percent, following the exodus of residents after hurricanes Irma and Maria. California, the most populous U.S. state, has about 39 million residents; its state Legislature has 120 seats.

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In states with a population similar to Puerto Rico’s—Iowa with 3.1 million and Connecticut with 3.6 million—lawmakers’ annual salaries range from $25,000 to $38,000. Even so, this remuneration surpasses teachers’ income, which averages about $22,000 a year.

Amendments end per diem benefits

In 2013, led by then-Gov. Alejandro García Padilla, the Legislature eliminated the per diem compensation of $30,000 per year and the $18,000 transportation stipend from the remunerations. These benefits raised legislators’ minimum wage up to $120,000 annually.

At that time, at-large NPP Rep. María Milagros Charbonier argued that $73,775 was not enough for lawmakers who had to travel to the Capitol from municipalities such as Cabo Rojo on the island’s west coast. The NPP legislators—the minority group at that time—opposed the measure.

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