Puerto Rico legislature’s leaders sue fiscal board
SAN JUAN – Puerto Rico Senate President Thomas Rivera Schatz and his counterpart in the House of Representatives, Speaker Carlos “Johnny” Méndez Núñez, sued the island’s fiscal oversight board in federal court Monday.
They are seeking that the federally established panel be declared as having surpassed the powers granted by the federally enacted financial oversight law for Puerto Rico, Promesa, and that it usurped the Legislative Assembly’s power when implementing its own budget for the government, along with cuts to the central government because lawmakers did not repeal Act 80, known as the unjustified dismissals law.
The legislative leaders are also requesting an injunction preventing the board’s version of the budget from being implemented, and that the legislature’s–approved June 30 and signed by Gov. Ricardo Rosselló Nevárez–be allowed to take effect. The board’s budget, the lawmakers point out in a joint statement, is of $8.76 billion, or greater than the one passed by the Senate and House by nearly $40 million.
“Even though the [fiscal board] is the strongest evidence that Puerto Rico is a colony, that does not give it the right to want to usurp the powers conferred on the Legislative Assembly, not only by those who democratically elected their representatives and senators, but by the republican system of government that has the legislative, executive and judicial power. While they respond to their interests, we do not give in and watch over those in Puerto Rico,” Rivera Schatz said.
For his part, the speaker stressed that “as we have said before, the process of reaffirming the democratic system of government that we have in Puerto Rico, where votes count and the voice of the people, expressed freely and democratically at the polls, must be respected, is now transferred to the Federal Court.
“Public policy is endorsed by the people of Puerto Rico, through the elected officials in the Legislative Assembly, not an Oversight Board, the most blatant expression of the power of the empire over the colony. The Legislature is there to serve the people, to watch over their interests and to be their voice. This premise is the cornerstone of any democratic government and we will defend this principle in every forum.”
The board announced on June 29 that it would certify its fiscal plan despite the legislature being constitutionally “allowed to approve measures, including budget ones,” until June 30, the lawmakers said.
In the lawsuit, Rivera Schatz and Méndez Núñez say the federal court established that the U.S. Congress did not grant the board power to “supplant, elude or replace the elected leaders of Puerto Rico” or those appointed to exercise administrative functions, “provided that the [board] considers that such a change is convenient.”
The lawsuit says the board “exceeded its authority by trying to force the House of Representatives and the Senate to approve a bill that would retroactively repeal Act 80 as a condition to approve the budget.” The release adds that, “as established in section 205 of the PROMESA Law on the recommendation of public policy, Rivera Schatz filed, at the request of the [board], Senate Bill 1011, through which, among other things, it was proposed to repeal Act 80.”
However, according to the lawsuit, the board’s requirement has “no relation” with “achieving responsibility and access to capital markets,” which is “one of the reasons that Congress passed Promesa,” the release reads.
In their statement, the lawmakers further said that despite “the non-binding nature of this recommendation” the Senate agreed to the board’s request, passing Senate Bill 1011 prospectively and not retroactively as proposed by the fiscal panel. “The House passed another version of the Senate bill that also repealed Act 80, but since the Senate did not concur with the amendments, a conference committee was created and it was later determined that Act 80 would not be repealed. Faced with this determination, the [board] exceeded its authority under PROMESA and refused to certify the budget approved by the legislature.”
“Contrary to what the [board] believes, Congress did not determine that the Legislature was a rubber stamp for the [board] so the Board cannot circumvent the limits of its authority imposed by Congress through hard-line tactics,” the lawsuit reads, adding that Congress did not eliminate the republican form of government when it approved Promesa in 2016.