Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Puerto Rico minority lawmakers sue fiscal board

By on July 17, 2018

SAN JUAN – Puerto Rico House Minority Leader Rafael ‘Tatito” Hernández and some 15 lower-chamber lawmakers of the Popular Democratic Party (PDP) challenged Tuesday the constitutionality of the island’s Financial Oversight and Management Board.

“The board today wants to govern, wants to legislate and wants to establish public policy in Puerto Rico without being democratically elected. It does not have that power and it does not follow from any paragraph of the Promesa [Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act] law. We are not challenging the Promesa law; we are specifically challenging the fiscal control board,” Hernández said at a press conference Tuesday.

The lawsuit, to be filed in U.S. District Court, presents similar arguments to those in a separate lawsuit filed by Gov. Ricardo Rosselló, seeking to have the board stopped from imposing its own budget.

Moreover, the lawmakers accuse the board of coercing the legislature to eliminate labor benefits in exchange for not imposing its own budget.

“In the middle of House hearings, a letter arrived from the board stating that the repeal of the Unjust Dismissal Act had to be approved or else the board was going to eliminate Christmas bonuses and other things,” Rep. Luis Vega Ramos said.

Hernández recalled that when the legal framework was included within the territorial clauses in Promesa, he had warned that the “mixture of politics and finance is toxic and they will regret it.”

There are three constitutional arguments. One of them is that the board needs to be confirmed according to the Constitution’s Appointments Clause. For a separate case, Judge Laura Taylor Swain said last week the board was constitutionally appointed. Vega Ramos said the PDP was stressing the point.

The representative said another argument presented is that the commonwealth is a Republican form of government that contains three branches of government, each with its own duties and responsibilities and that the board’s attempts to impose public policy violate the doctrine of separation of powers.

Judge Swain, however, has already said Congress, by virtue of the Territorial Clause, has plenary powers over Puerto Rico, and that Promesa empowers the board to, among other things, approve the fiscal plans and budgets of the commonwealth and its instrumentalities, override executive and legislative branch actions that are “inconsistent with approved fiscal plans and budgets, and commence a bankruptcy-type proceeding in federal court on behalf of the Commonwealth or its instrumentalities.”

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