Puerto Rico gov’t still doesn’t know where the $70M to pay Christmas Bonus will come from
Agency heads asked to comply with fiscal plans and pay utilities, PayGo
SAN JUAN — Where the $70 million needed to pay the Christmas bonus of Puerto Rico’s public employees will come from has yet to be identified, Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Omar Marrero said Thursday.
“We are doing the math needed. We do have different options identified. What’s going on is that from the responsible point of view, we have to recognize that, that is not the only challenge, it’s Christmas Bonus, it’s payroll, it’s expenses in ATM [Maritime Transportation Authority] and ATI [Integrated Transportation Authority] for purchasing fuel, it’s medical plans; the issues are many,” Marrero replied to questions from the press.
Marrero said that when the island’s fiscal control board approved the budget for fiscal year 2020, it left the allotment for the Christmas Bonus payment at zero. Because Gov. Wanda Vázquez Garced committed to paying the Christmas Bonus, cuts will have to be made to other budgetary items at the agencies and permission to reallocate those funds for the payment of the Christmas Bonus will be submitted to the board.
He explained that the surplus expected at the end of the fiscal year, estimated at $2.6 billion, is for paying future deficits, the debt, depositing some $176 million for the pension reserve fund and a $130 million reserve for emergencies.
“Last year, in the budget, they gave us the size of the room, but we could play with the items. This year, they divided it and in the Christmas Bonus item, it says zero. That’s why we have to request that reprogramming, but that reprogramming requires that we determine and identify where that item will come from,” he said.
The CFO, Gov. Vázquez and the governor’s representative to the board, Eli Díaz Atienza met at the Pedro Rosselló Convention Center with most of the agency heads to explain the scope of the fiscal plan, the spending control measures and budgetary controls they have to implement.
The officials were required that as part of the redistribution of budget items in their agencies, they cannot take money from utility payments or the retiremernt system contribution.
“Interagency payments are priority, meaning Aqueductos [short in Spanish for Puerto Rico Aqueduct & Sewer Authority], Electric Power [Authority] and PayGo. That is a priority and I told the heads of agencies that it’s not like the years before, when it they stopped paying that. That can’t be done now because those agencies have fiscal plans that they have to comply with and they have that income accounted for,” Marrero said.
“I believe that the main goal of these working groups is fiscal responsibility, compliance with the budgets, compliance with the budget that has been certified [by the board], and we want agency heads to comply with this and that they have their expectations clear so they can make the adjustments, so that we can identify in the budget the resources for these commitments that we want to pay,” the governor said.
In addition, the agency officials were instructed that in case of any budgetary need that has not been considered by the board, to take the necessary measures and be able to make the requests in time to the federally created panel under the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act.