Gov’t pinpoints 10 priority reconstruction projects to propel economic development

Agenda based on over $80 billion in federal, commonwealth & private funds

By Pedro Correa Henry

Twitter: @pete_r_correa

Special to The Star

During Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia’s first meeting with the Economic and Fiscal Task Force on Monday, the administration revealed the 10 reconstruction projects that will be prioritized in its agenda to propel the island’s economy for the next four years.

La Fortaleza Chief of Staff Noelia García Bernales announced that the projects to be set in motion will be the rehabilitation of urban centers, the Puerto Rico 5G broadband infrastructure, the development of the former Naval Station Roosevelt Roads, building a new Trauma Center at the Río Piedras Medical Center, improvements to the Mayagüez Trauma Hospital, extension of highway PR-10, extension of PR-5 (the Río Hondo Expressway), extension of PR-22 (the José de Diego Expressway), the development of Puerto Las Américas in Ponce, the Urban Bay in San Juan’s Convention District, the air hub strategy in Aguadilla and the economic development of the island municipalities of Vieques and Culebra.

“We are all on the same page so that these projects can be implemented and begin their execution in these four years,” García Bernales said.

Most of the reconstruction projects will be largely supported by federal funding allocations for the island’s recovery. Fiscal Agency and Financial Advisory Authority (AAFAF by its Spanish initials) Executive Director Omar Marrero said the agenda is based on the injection of over $80 billion in federal, commonwealth and private funds.

Marrero said $20 million will come from the Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Recovery program and just over $40 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

“To a large extent, the economy has not collapsed over the last year thanks to federal funds,” Marrero said. “So it’s not a bad thing to have in a strategy that a lot of the investment is going to be with federal funds.”

Regarding the possibility that the government could amend the fiscal plan to meet the established agenda, Marrero said Pierluisi “has been emphatic that the fiscal plan has to be revised to ensure, beyond updating the macroeconomic assumptions, to ensure that he can have a functional government.”

“This is in the interest of all of us, including our creditors on the other side of the negotiating table,” the AAFAF chief said. “They also require a functional government that can execute in a structured manner, that can execute the measures that are in the fiscal plan, that can save the obligations to which we are committed.”

Transfer of $922 million to towns under review

Marrero also said the Economic and Fiscal Task Force was evaluating a Popular Democratic Party legislative proposal announced Sunday that urges the island government and the federal Financial Oversight and Management Board to amend the fiscal plan and the fiscal year 2021-2022 budget to transfer $922 million to the 78 municipalities for public works maintenance. He said the governor “is considering any proposal that boosts municipalities.”

“Although this is an exercise of the executive branch because PROMESA [the Puerto Rico Oversight Management and Economic Stability Act of 2016] requires it, that is, it imposes the obligation on the governor, we will be listening to any proposal that may be presented by our colleagues in the Legislature,” Marrero said. “I even met with the House speaker [Rafael Hernández Montañez] a week ago, before the conference was held. He had mentioned the different initiatives to me, and I told him that we were going to listen to [the funds transfer proposal] and we were going to review it responsibly for several reasons.”

Among the reasons, Marrero said, was that the central government “has always supported the municipalities.”

“I am not saying it myself, but it is on the record when you look at the different fights we have fought and the request to keep the contribution to the municipalities unaltered,” he said.

Marrero also noted that the current budget has about $110 million for the next five years “to identify services that can be transferred to the municipalities or services that can be consolidated through consortiums in order to be more efficient.”

“The governor has been emphatically clear that he … believes in the municipalities, and he believes in identifying functions that can be shared with the municipalities,” Marrero said.

One of those functions, identified with input from the Office of Management and Budget, he said, was to ensure that the Department of Transportation and Public Works has sufficient funds for road maintenance, including the clearing of brush.

“Obviously, if we transfer that responsibility, we have to find a way to transfer those resources tied to that responsibility,” he said. “We cannot pretend to transfer those responsibilities without giving them those resources; that is at the core of what the government’s program is: seeking to strengthen the municipalities.”

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