The House of Representatives will approve this Saturday a budget for the next fiscal year of $ 10.111 million, similar to that recommended by the Fiscal Control Board, which leaves out salary increases for teachers, correctional officers, firefighters and social workers.
However, it identified surpluses to mitigate the cut of $ 44 million to the Equalization Fund of the municipalities and of $ 94 million to the University of Puerto Rico (UPR), and to guarantee the continuity of the residency program of the Medical Sciences Campus (RCM) . In the press conference, the amount in surplus was not specified by the presidents of the Finance commissions in the Chamber and the Senate, Jesús Santa and Juan Zaragoza, respectively.
Santa and Zaragoza did not confirm whether the fiscal board endorses the changes to the budget. It also emerged that the Executive did not participate in the negotiations between the Legislature and the regulatory body.
“The governor (Pedro Pierluisi) submitted a budget to the Legislature without those increases (in salary). That was not even included in the budget that reached the Legislature and which was almost similar to that of the fiscal board, “said Santa, who was hopeful that the president will sign the budget resolution endorsed by the Legislature on June 18.
“If they come to see, what we are doing is not very different from what the governor wants … and that in the conversations we have had with the board, then that they accept the changes,” added Santa.
He affirmed that it was the governor who promised the salary increase in some dependencies. “The UPR, Health and the municipalities were included. In other words, the priorities that we outline and those that we understand to be the most important. We did not promise increases, “said the legislator.
He admitted that the House budget proposal does not include the $ 3.8 million required by the Justice Department to hire 104 employees necessary to comply with the executive order that decrees the state of emergency for gender violence on the island.
Meanwhile, Zaragoza stated that “the list of needs of the agencies is long.”
“What we were able to alter in the board’s budget – which constitutes our budget – is not perfect. We would have liked to be able to attend 15 or 20 needs in each agency, but we have to be realistic. We focus on several items and in our understanding I think that is something significant because for the first time the immovable wall that was the budget of the board in the past years was broken, “he said.
Zaragoza insisted that “this is not a 100-meter race, this is a marathon. The next few years we hope to continue digging that wall and continue to move forward to address other priorities. We would have liked, but this is not perfect ”.
Another matter that remains on hold, as they accepted, are the funds necessary to cover the salary of the employees of the Electric Power Authority (PREPA) transferred to other agencies due to the entry of LUMA Energy as operator of the transmission and distribution system of electricity.
When questioned about the variations between the items in the budget of the fiscal board and the legislative version, both legislators affirmed that “there is a bit of everything.”
“The UPR suffered a cut of $ 94 million and has significant challenges in the long and medium term, the main challenge being the pension system … We achieved with the fiscal board that this net of between $ 25 million and $ 35 million that is owed to the UPR is achieved, that funds are assigned to the agencies so that they pay the UPR ”, said Zaragoza.
The former Secretary of the Treasury pointed out that the UPR could also draw on an endowment fund that had $ 120 million and to which they would be adding around $ 170 million.
However, he did not specify the source of income from where the millions that would be added to the referred endowment fund would come from. “All this money that we are talking about is not from nothing, it has been consulted with the board and most of them are for surpluses,” said Zaragoza.
He added that another concern brought before the board is related to the continuity of medical residencies at the RCM and specifically about the neurosurgery program. “We were able to identify a surplus of $ 15 million from the Health Department to be transferred to the RCM. It seems to me that this is critical, ”the senator pointed out.
To mitigate the $ 44 million cut to municipalities, Santa explained that maintenance services for schools and highways could be transferred from the central government to municipalities. “That money can go to the municipalities to do the tasks they have already been doing,” he said.
The Legislature’s budget version will be approved in the House on Saturday. While the Senate would be evaluating it with the intention of endorsing it no later than June 18. Then, it would go to the evaluation of the Executive and the fiscal board.