• The Star Staff

Gov’t says it will defend firefighters’ salary adjustment

By The Star Staff

Puerto Rico Fiscal Agency and Financial Advisory Authority (AAFAF by its Spanish initials) Executive Director Omar J. Marrero sent a letter to the federal Financial Oversight and Management Board detailing how the island government will seek to guarantee the $125 monthly salary increase to firefighters through the mechanisms of Act 181-2019 and Act 154-2020.

Marrero said in his letter — which was ordered by Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia — that $7.5 million is projected to be collected from insurance premiums, which will guarantee the economic line item for the firefighters, totaling some $2.5 million.

“As we have said before, the Government of Puerto Rico is barred from continuing to pay this increase by the injunction issued by the Title III Federal Court,” Marrero stated in the letter. “However, Governor Pedro Pierluisi’s administration is committed to doing salary justice by our firefighters. We will work to achieve this, and we call on the Oversight Board to urgently address our proposal, which is based on priority data that has been provided on multiple occasions and fronts.”

On June 12, 2020, the commonwealth government filed various complaints against the oversight board, challenging the decision of the federal body not to allow the implementation of Act 181-2019. During the judicial process, the board alleged that it had unilateral power to prohibit the implementation of the laws and that Act 181-2019 was null.

Then, on Dec. 23, the Title III court issued an opinion denying in part the arguments of the oversight board. Nevertheless, the court issued an injunction against the Puerto Rico government barring the implementation of Act 181-2019 until the oversight board allows the government to put it into effect. The Title III court reasoned, in part, that the salary increase could not be implemented because it was not part of the budget certified by the oversight board. However, it declined to declare Act 181-2019 null.

In compliance with the court order, the Department of Public Safety, the Firefighters Corps and the Office of the Insurance Commissioner stopped the implementation of Act 181-2019.

“Pursuant to the decision of the Title III Court, since January 21, 2020, AAFAF has explained, through specific data and analysis, how the insurance premium increase provided by Act 181-2019, as amended by Act 154-2020, is more than enough to cover the firefighters’ pay increase,” Marrero said in his letter. “We even asked the Oversight Board to provide us with business days when the Oversight Board and AAFAF teams could discuss this matter, but no response has been received.”