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Puerto Rico fiscal agency chief: Oversight board’s budget threatens essential services

By on May 29, 2019

The Puerto Rico Capitol in San Juan (CB photo)

Board gives legislature June 10 deadline to consider its spending plan

SAN JUAN — The head of Puerto Rico’s Fiscal Agency and Financial Advisory Authority (Aafaf by its Spanish acronym) warned Wednesday that the island’s Financial Oversight and Management Board’s budget for fiscal year 2020 reduces public expenditure to the extent of impeding the government from fulfilling its function of promoting the general welfare of the island’s residents.

“We have several fundamental differences with the Oversight Board as to the best way to overcome Puerto Rico’s financial crisis. We believe the Oversight Board is requiring a level of austerity that is counterproductive and impedes the provision of essential services to the citizenry,” Aafaf Executive Director Christian Sobrino said.

The joint resolution the board sent to the Legislature, summarizing the budget allocations, assigns $9.05 billion from the General Fund of the State Treasury, which the fiscal panel rounds off as $9.1 billion. The board’s version of the spending plan is of $571 million less than the budget it was sent by the governor, reflecting reductions to allocations for education, municipalities and the State Elections Commission.

The board said it was forced to make the cuts because the government’s budget was not compliant with the fiscal plan it certified.

Sobrino said that while he has yet to review the specific cuts, which board Executive Director Natalie Jaresko announced Tuesday, he will evaluate the budget to ensure it is compliant with the government’s stated policy.

“It is critical that the Oversight Board does not require unnecessary cuts to the continuation of public safety, healthcare and our children’s education,” he said.

Jaresko stressed Tuesday that the majority of the budget’s funds will go to pay pensions and the priority, or essential, areas: healthcare, education and public safety.

A letter the board sent to the Legislature on Wednesday specifies that lawmakers must submit the adopted budget to the panel by June 10. The board will then approve the legislature’s budget or notify lawmakers of any violations by June 14. If the board finds the legislature’s version to be non-compliant, the board expects a revised budget by June 21, to be able to certify the budget by June 28.

“The Oversight Board looks forward to continuing to work with you to certify a compliant fiscal year 2020 Territory Budget,” reads Jaresko’s letter to Gov. Ricardo Rosselló, Senate President Thomas Rivera Schatz and House Speaker Carlos Méndez. “The Oversight Board may supplement the budget attached hereto with technical amendments.”

The $9.05 billion general fund budget does not include special revenues, or $3.5 billion the government makes through fees, traffic fines and services. The combined general fund and special revenue funds total $12.6 billion. The island is also slated to get $6 billion in federal funds, a figure that does not include disaster-related relief.

About 22.1% of the $9.1 billion budget, or almost $2 billion, will go to the PayGo program to pay pensions. About $1.9 billion, or 21.6%, will to education, including $560 million to the University of Puerto Rico and $14 million for teacher salary increases.

In addition, about $1 billion, or 11.4%, will go to public safety, and 14.3%, or $1.2 billion, to healthcare, including $917 million to the Health Insurance Administration (ASES by its Spanish acronym).

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