Approved budget likely to have more losers than winners

By The Star Staff

The fiscal year 2022 budget that the island Legislature intends to approve will not contain salary increases for prison guards or teachers, but will contain funding for the University of Puerto Rico (UPR), the heads of the Treasury committees in both legislative chambers said Wednesday.

House Treasury Committee Chairman Jesús Santa Rodríguez and Senate Treasury Committee Chairman Juan Zaragoza Gómez said there will also be no funding to recruit some 200 social workers or funding to allow the Puerto Rico Police Bureau to deal with the wave of gender violence plaguing the island.

“The list of needs is long,” Zaragoza said. “We could not alter the budget. The [federal Financial Oversight and Management] Board’s budget and our budget are not perfect either. We would have liked to meet 20 needs, but we must be realistic.”

Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia submitted a $10.3 billion budget to the Legislature last month, but lawmakers are using as the basis for their work a $10.1 billion budget prepared by the federal oversight board.

Both Santa and Zaragoza stated that their objectives were to meet the priorities they identified prior to presenting the budget. These were granting additional funds to the UPR, funds for mayors and funds for the UPR medical residency program, whose neurosurgery department lost its accreditation.

In the case of the UPR, Zaragoza insisted that $94 million in federal funds that the governor said he would allocate to the university does not necessarily resolve the cut made by the oversight board. UPR owes money to agencies, he pointed out.

“What was agreed with the board is that funds will be redistributed to these agencies, so that the net balance estimated to be $30 million will be received by the UPR,” Zaragoza said. “In addition, $163 million will be deposited in UPR’s endowment fund to bring it up to $283 million. This endowment fund should be used to finance research projects, scholarships, capital projects and investments. The medical residency program will get $15 million.”

Regarding the municipalities and the cut of $44 million, Santa said the plan is to give towns $70 million in the budget to repair schools and roads within their jurisdictions.

The legislators noted that during the public hearings process they found that several agencies had surpluses in their budgets that were not used. In addition, they plan to cut the government’s professional services contracts and advertising expenses by 10%.

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