FY 2022 budget, amended from oversight board’s version, heads to Senate

By The Star Staff

The island Senate is slated to pass on Thursday the $10.1 billion budget for fiscal year (FY) 2022, which could become the first budget evaluated and amended by the Legislature since the federal Financial Oversight and Management Board began to manage Puerto Rico’s fiscal affairs.

After four years without a balanced budget, the House of Representatives passed a $10.1 billion budget over the weekend that is the same amount as one designed by the oversight board but with additional funding for the University of Puerto Rico (UPR), UPR’s Medical Sciences Campus and funding to allow municipalities to take over the maintenance of schools and highways. Separate legislation to give towns the jurisdiction to maintain schools and highways was also approved. FY 2022 starts July 1.

“A difficult year and a complicated budget. First of all, I want to thank all the people who participated in the public hearings held since March. I want to acknowledge the empathy and collaboration of all the components of the committee that I chair,” House Treasury Committee Chairman Jesús Santa Rodríguez said.

The committee held 22 hearings, most of them together with the Senate Treasury Committee.

The budget, approved through House Resolution 144, authored by House Speaker Rafael “Tatito” Hernández Montañez and Santa Rodríguez, does not contain money for debt payments because they will be included after the commonwealth debt adjustment plan goes into effect. It also may be amended if Congress repeals the Medicaid budget cap.

Hernández Montañez emphasized that the Legislature took a stand before the oversight board.

“As a legislative assembly, we want to remove the [oversight] board with the approval of a balanced budget and agreements with the creditors,” he said. “It is our position as a party that pensions must not be cut. This delegation has fought in the minority and now, in the majority, with the board in the courts and in the creation of public policies.”

For its part, the New Progressive Party (NPP) filed amendments to the budget, but they were rejected. The Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP), the Citizen Victory Movement (MVC) and the Dignity Project voted against the budget.

The results of the negotiations between the oversight board and the Legislative Assembly stood out in the identification of $129 million to capitalize UPR’s endowment fund.

“This gives us the opportunity to safeguard students and address a possible increase in enrollment,” Santa Rodríguez stated.

The money comes from surplus scholarship fund money in the Treasury Department that will be transferred to the Endowment Fund.

Also, the work on the budget identified funds left over from FY 2021 amounting to $44 million, which will be allocated to the municipalities. The budgeted items will be used to initiate regionalization processes that will allow towns to take over maintenance of roads, schools and recreational areas.

The budget approved with 27 votes in favor and 15 against considers an item of $15 million for the neurosurgery program at the UPR Medical Sciences Campus, which lost its accreditation.

“Public health in Puerto Rico is an area of great importance for society as a whole,” Santa Rodríguez said.

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