The San Juan Daily Star
Fiscal board director Mujica prods Legislature on budget responsibilities
By The Star Staff
Financial Oversight and Management Board Executive Director Robert Mujica is criticizing the island Legislature over the weekend for allegedly not fulfilling its responsibility regarding the budget.
“The budget is the prime responsibility of any elected legislature, yet this is the third consecutive time the two chambers of the Puerto Rico Legislature have failed to submit a budget for the government,” Mujica said in a statement late last week.
His remarks were made after the oversight board announced that its members had certified an amended general fund budget for the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico for the current fiscal year (FY) 2023. He said he hopes the three branches can work together to create the FY 2024 budget.
“The Oversight Board certified a $13.9 billion general fund budget that reflects updated revenue and expense projections. The amended budget includes $650 million previously authorized for the government’s Emergency Reserve and $545 million for a loan to the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) to ensure sufficient working capital,” the statement on the FY 2023 budget notes. “The certified amended budget also provides an additional $100 million requested by the Puerto Rico Health Insurance Administration (ASES) to fund a potential Medicaid funding shortfall.”
According to the oversight board, on April 5, the board sent to Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia and the Legislature a letter establishing a schedule for submitting, approving and certifying the Amended Fiscal Year 2023 Budget and on April 13, the governor submitted a proposed Amended Fiscal Year 2023 Budget.
The oversight board and its advisers held extensive discussions with the governor’s representatives regarding such submission; and after substantial deliberations, the board determined that the proposed Amended Fiscal Year 2023 Budget, as submitted by the governor, was a compliant amended budget, approved the budget and submitted it to the Legislature on April 17.
“The Legislature failed to submit a proposed Amended Fiscal Year 2023 Budget adopted by the Legislature for the Oversight Board to review by May 1, 2023 in accordance with the schedule established in the April 5, 2023 letter,” the statement noted, and on May 2, the oversight board sent to the Legislature a letter stating, among other things, that the Legislature had failed to submit a proposed Amended Fiscal Year 2023 Budget.
The revised Fiscal Plan for Puerto Rico prioritizes the allocation of updated revenue estimates to pre-existing unfunded obligations and commitments. Those investments and expenditures are incorporated in the certified amended budget.
“The amended budget for the current fiscal year the Oversight Board certified today reflects spending priorities that are essential for the people of Puerto Rico,” Mujica said. “The reserve to help the people, the government, and municipalities in case of natural disasters and other emergencies had run too low. The amended budget also reflects the Government’s and the Oversight Board’s shared priority of improving healthcare in Puerto Rico and completing the transformation of Puerto Rico’s energy system to provide the people and businesses with more reliable, more affordable, and cleaner energy.”
Mujica said the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management and Economic Stability Act, commonly known as PROMESA, gave the oversight board the authority to certify a compliant budget, but it did not take away the Legislature’s responsibility to approve and submit a budget.
“The budget is a key element of fiscal responsibility owed to the people of Puerto Rico,” he said. “The Governor and the Oversight Board are currently working on the fiscal year 2024 budget, and the Oversight Board hopes both branches of the government will approve and submit a compliant budget for the Oversight Board’s review and certification.”
The board noted that the Emergency Reserve provided direct assistance to people affected by natural disasters, funded the temporary relocation of schools during the pandemic, and provided vital support to municipalities. Fully funding the reserve, consistent with the fiscal plan, ensures that the government has sufficient resources to help the people of Puerto Rico quickly and efficiently in cases of emergencies, the oversight board reiterated.
The loan to PREPA establishes a working capital reserve for Genera PR LLC to ensure investments and upgrades are made and suppliers are paid, and is a requirement under the agreement of the Puerto Rico Public-Private Partnerships Authority (P3A) and PREPA with Genera. The working capital is not a payment to Genera for operating power plants but instead provides critical operational liquidity. PREPA’s failure to maintain adequate cash reserves in the past left the system vulnerable to natural disasters and impeded PREPA’s ability to respond quickly to crises, the oversight board noted.