The discussion of the budget for the next fiscal year in the Legislative Assembly is going from strength to strength in the Finance committees, and legislators are inclined to adjust the numbers proposed by the Executive and the Fiscal Control Board to reduce the number of contracts for services professionals in government agencies.
This, however, would not result in modifications to the budgetary items included in the agencies because the aspiration of Jesús Santa and Juan Zaragoza, presidents of the Finance commissions in the Chamber and Senate respectively, is that the government agencies can have more employees in payroll with the same money.
Both, in an interview with THE SPOKESMAN, did not specify what additional changes they would make in other items to adjust them to their budget vision for the next fiscal year that begins on July 1. While the president of the Senate, José Luis Dalmau, affirmed that he asked Governor Pedro Pierluisi to send the budget to the Legislature before May 10 because “if this is not the case, we will not be able to attend a budget in a responsible manner before the closing of the session. ”. The last day to file measures that can be addressed in this legislative session is May 30, according to Dalmau.
“I think we have broken all world records, first because of how early we start to evaluate, second because we are doing it in joint public hearings and the Senate is always the first Chamber and one day before June 30. We began to evaluate it jointly in March, ”said Zaragoza, who anticipated that there are still agencies to hear in the joint public hearings.
Zaragoza recognized that “in most cases” the budget of the fiscal board and that of the governor “are the same.”
“The other thing that strikes us is that it consistently reflects a reduction in the number of employees and an increase in the hiring of third parties. That is constantly seen. It’s a trend … they don’t give you a budget or it’s difficult for you to hire. So you see the graphs of how the number of employees on the payroll goes down and the contracts go up. It is repeated in all agencies, “he said.
He said that they have already identified around 15 specific items where there are differences between the board and the Executive. The difference between La Fortaleza’s budget and that proposed by the fiscal board is around $ 650 million, said Zaragoza. “If there is any change in that we would not have to do hearings again because in most agencies and in most games there are not many differences,” he explained.
However, he mentioned that they have not yet determined whether they would make adjustments to other budget items.
Meanwhile, Santa explained that “in theory what the board submits or accepts we already have at hand because in the worst case scenario it would be what they recommended to the governor or including the changes that the governor requested. So I don’t see differences between one and the other because we already have them both ”.
He also mentioned that there is no deadline for the board or the governor to submit the budget to the Legislature. “The federal Promesa law regulates the budget with the Executive, but not with the Legislative,” he said.
“We are seeing that there is a reduction in salaries, but there is an increase in professional services. When we ask the directors and secretaries, they tell us that they don’t have people. Then, they themselves accept that it should be cheaper, than instead of hiring a CPA firm to make the agency purchases for you, having as an employee several people to do that job for you, “he added.
He said that they have asked the heads of the agency for a list of the places they have available and the cost of them. “What we can do is that instead of having $ 3 million in professional services, we are going to have $ 1.5 million in salaries and then you have the opportunity to hire people and make the operation of the agencies more cost effective. That could be an alternative, “he said.
When asked by EL VOCERO, he said that this would lead to savings, “but to concentrate it on the number of employees you have because by contract you may be able to hire three, but using them with the same money you can have up to five employees.” He stressed that in general in all the dependencies they indicate that they do not have personnel and what they propose is an alternative, since “it is cheaper to have a person, than an accounting firm or a law firm.”
He recalled that in the case of the Department of Labor and Human Resources (DTRH) the Legislature was told that they do not have funds allocated to invest in technology.
“One challenge we have is where we can get money for the DTRH to modernize, but that part is more complicated because then they would have to get money from one side to move from one agency to another and for me to do that I have to see both agencies, the one that will be affected and the one that will benefit, ”he said.
Finance commissions will continue to preliminarily evaluate budgets in public hearings over the next few weeks. Once the budget resolution reaches the Legislature, the commissions, after evaluating them, would issue a final verdict on its content and could suggest recommendations.
“It is possible that there will be changes in the budget with the vision that we have as Legislature or in the Popular Democratic Party (PPD), but I believe that everything must be evaluated responsibly. We have already taken quite a few agencies and the largest ones, but they are still missing. It is not responsible now to say what change we will make without having at least discussed this change with the secretary of the entity “, concluded Santa.
Faced with the legislators’ proposal on the contracts, the spokesman for the fiscal board Edward Zayas limited himself to replying that “everything will be evaluated according to the previously established itinerary.”