Puerto Rico legislature not ruling out legal action against furlough program
SAN JUAN – While several groups of youngsters walked the halls of Puerto Rico’s Capitol, looking to learn about its history and seemingly unaware of the reality afflicting the island, legislators of the three parties were considering legal action to avoid an imposed upon public employee furlough.
Even though the chairman of the Financial Oversight & Management Board, José Carrión, argued that a case in opposition to the furlough program would “prolong the agony,” Senate Vice President Larry Seilhamer said the government could go to court to fight the measure.
“It seems to me that it is going to be challenged in court. I think the governor of Puerto Rico [Ricardo Rosselló] has been clear. The effort these seven months has been extraordinary. I believe there is a lot of credibility in all executive orders and laws passed. Of 40 laws, 15 address the fiscal situation of Puerto Rico,” he said.
To this, he added that the governing body should provide the opportunity to the government to demonstrate whether its projections “are in compliance or not,” although he regretted that this has not been the case. Recognizing that reducing employee salaries by 10 percent is “simple math that won’t fail,” Seilhamer emphasized that efforts should be made to meet the targets with government measures.
When asked by Caribbean Business if taking the case to court could stop the implementation of the furlough, the senator said the Rosselló administration has enough time because the measure is slated for Sept. 1.
For his part, Popular Democratic Party (PDP) Rep. Jesús Manuel Ortiz argued that the administration has focused its priorities “elsewhere” by rushing measures such as the political-status referendum and the creation of the Democracy Commission to promote the island’s admission as a state in Washington, D.C.
When asked if the government should challenge the fiscal entity in court to have the furlough’s implementation rendered moot, Ortiz said there is no doubt it will happen because “the government is playing a game here to try to blame the board for everything that happens.”
“I would support any bill that prevents a situation like this from happening. Nobody can be happy with this […] Certainly, any sincere action aimed at trying to lessen the blow a little bit is positive,” Ortiz said, adding that “this isn’t a partisan issue” because supporters of all parties will “suffer the consequences.”
Meanwhile, the Puerto Rican Independence Party’s (PIP) spokesperson in the House, Denis Márquez, repeated a phrase used by his party, “Not even a glass of water for the board,” and said he welcomes any action against the furlough. allegory
“A lot of people in Puerto Rico think that public workers have big salaries, [but] there are wages here that hover around the federal minimum and when you are talking specifically, [there are] thousands of women in Puerto Rico who are public workers, heads of households. This is talking about the assets of many families. It’s [about] leading the people to greater poverty,” he lamented.
For the pro-independence legislator, “the board has the last word,” but he recalled that the government and the Legislative Assembly have abided by all board instructions since its establishment a little over a year ago, which is why he doesn’t trust they will challenge the entity in court.
Both Ortiz and Márquez stressed that the furlough would represent a “downward spiral” for the economy, because less money in the pockets of more than 130,000 public workers would mean less revenue for the government and local economy.
During its ninth public meeting, the fiscal control board announced the monthly two-day furlough for public workers–except police personnel–which preliminarily extended until the end of the current fiscal year, or June 2018.
During the meeting, held in Fajardo’s El Conquistador resort, the governor’s representative to the board, Christian Sobrino, assured that Rosselló will not implement the measure because his administration believes it isn’t necessary. The fiscal board “will not replace the government,” he said stressed.
The governor will deliver a televised message on the matter at 5:30 p.m.