Public hearings over Puerto Rico’s budget kick off Wednesday
SAN JUAN — The Puerto Rico Legislature will kick off Wednesday, June 7, public hearings over the commonwealth government’s budget for fiscal year 2018, which begins July 1, the president of the House Treasury Committee, Rep. Antonio Soto, announced Sunday.
The legislative hearings over the proposed $9.562 billion general fund budget—unveiled last week by Gov. Ricardo Rosselló and partially certified on Friday by the island’s financial control board—would run until June 15. With a June 19 initial deadline set by the fiscal board, both chambers would have just over four days to vote and approve the budget bills.
Rep. Soto said he was confident that the Legislature will comply with the board’s initial delivery deadline, although he warned that if the calendar has to be modified by the seven-member panel created by the federal Promesa law, it must do so.
“The deadlines are not a straitjacket. If [the board] has to change the [calendar], it will change it. But for us, it is not an impediment to the legislative work we are going to carry out,” said the lawmaker, who stressed it is important for the Legislature to approve a spending plan for the government before June 30.
If it fails to do so, the financial control board “has the power under the law to approve its own budget [version],” Rep. Soto later conceded.
The Legislature’s budgetary evaluation process will begin with a meeting Monday, with Rosselló’s fiscal team. On Tuesday, they will hold a meeting with the fiscal board’s technical team, which has been made available to lawmakers, Soto said.
Public hearings—which will be carried out jointly with the Senate—will officially begin Wednesday, when lawmakers will again receive the governor’s fiscal team. By Saturday, the Treasury committees of both chambers expect to have addressed government components related to education, community affairs and public safety, including the University of Puerto Rico (UPR).
On Monday, June 12, public hearings would resume and run through Thursday, June 15, during which time the Legislature expects to hear testimony from the economic development, health, family, labor, transportation, housing, sports, and agriculture departments.
As for the evaluation calendar set forth by Promesa’s financial control board, if the governing body notifies “violations” in the spending plan that the Legislature initially presents by June 19, lawmakers would have until June 26 to correct them and submit a new version of the document. If the discrepancies still exist by the end of Friday, June 30, the financial board would enforce its own budget version.
Rosselló presented Wednesday, May 31, a fiscal 2018 general fund budget that reaches $9.562 billion. Two days later, the document was partially certified by the board, as it only approved the “aggregate spending level.”
The governing body required the Rosselló administration to modify several discretionary spending earmarks for failing to meet the objectives of the commonwealth’s certified fiscal plan. The fiscal panel also requested more evidence on how exactly the government will achieve some of the projected spending cuts.
“Be assured that we are not in a process of confrontation with the board. We are [working] within a framework of collaboration […] There is a completely open channel of communication [with the board],” Rep. Soto said.