In an atypical scenario, far from the Legislature and amid tensions with lawmakers stemming from the primary race, tomorrow Governor Wanda Vázquez Garced will deliver her first state of the commonwealth address and she would also present a budget larger than the one submitted by the Oversight Board.
Vázquez Garced has not revealed the reasons why she will be addressing the island from the Fine Arts Center in Santurce, at 5:00 p.m. tomorrow. El Nuevo Día requested details on the subject from La Fortaleza but received no answer.
However, members of legislative minorities stressed yesterday that this type of address is generally delivered from the House floor, where Pedro Pierluisi seems to concentrate the support for the gubernatorial primary race. A letter sent to legislative presidents inviting lawmakers only mentions the place and date of the event.
El Nuevo Día learned that La Fortaleza’s legislative affairs advisor, Alex López, tried yesterday to change the call to the event, in response to warnings from several New Progressive Party (PNP) lawmakers about possible constitutional issues related to holding the event outside the Capitol.
A possible change to the event, however, could mean additional obstacles, since, according to sources, the event would be described as a message underscoring achievements, which would require the endorsement of the State Elections Commission.
Vázquez Garced would address only majority lawmakers at the Fine Arts Center since all minority legislators have announced they will not attend the event. Independent representative, Manuel Natal, has not commented on the subject.
The delay in submitting the government’s budget has not gone unnoticed by both the legislative majority and minority. Last week, Gabriel Rodríguez Aguiló, spokesman for the New Progressive Party House majority, and his colleague Juan Oscar Morales criticized the governor and said it was irresponsible to present the budget seven days before the end of the legislative session.
Vázquez Garced would submit a larger budget
Although Vázquez Garced would present a budget that is larger than the one the Board proposed, the entity´s executive director Natalie Jaresko said yesterday that the Board’s proposal contemplates strategic investments amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Jaresko also insisted on recommending the government to use next fiscal year to make the necessary administrative and operational changes aimed at seeking more and better and “wiser and more efficient” management of public funds.
Last week, the Board submitted its recommended budget for fiscal year 2021 to the Legislature. The Board recommended budget totals about $10.045 billion, which is about $994 million more than the current budget.
However, according to the fiscal entity, the budget filed before the Legislature would total about $169 million less than the budget that Vázquez Garced would reveal tomorrow.
In a session with reporters about the budget submitted by the Board and the University of Puerto Rico fiscal plan, Jaresko defended the budget submitted to the Legislature, stating that, unlike other states, the U.S. territory will not cut expenses. As a result of the coronavirus pandemic, dozens of state governments in the United States are facing serious fiscal problems, as they have ordered shutdowns in an attempt to contain the spread of the virus.
In contrast, Jaresko said that disciplinary measures promoted by the Board made it possible for the government to use a $160 million reserve to deal with the pandemic and at the same time, direct about $675 million to investments in specific programs, including scholarships for university students in the health sector and strengthening the technology infrastructure, among others.
The Board and the government will discuss the budget in the Legislature while holding a dispute in court. While the fiscal entity sued the government because it has not provided the documents related to the bidding process for the purchase of rapid testing kits to address the COVID-19 emergency, the government sued the Board to avoid that several statutes were declared invalid.
This is the third consecutive year that the Board seeks to impose its version of the government’s operational budget, mostly covered through the General Fund. The consolidated budget, which includes collections through special laws and federal funds, complements the operation of the government and would total some $25 billion.
On the two previous occasions, the Board ended up imposing its plan, which resulted in litigation under PROMESA which remains partially in force.