• The Star Staff

Governor does not confirm or deny he’ll sign dignified retirement bill

Says measure must be analyzed

By Pedro Correa Henry

Twitter: @pete_r_correa

Special to The Star

Following the unanimous approval in the island House of Representatives of House Bill (HB) 120, which seeks to establish a policy of zero cuts to government employees’ pensions, Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia said Wednesday he would be evaluating the bill once it reaches his desk as he did not commit to signing the legislation.

Pierluisi said the legislation must be put under scrutiny as the federal Financial Oversight and Management Board called the bill “inconsistent.”

On Tuesday, the oversight board said the measure could not go into effect as law because it would be annulled by the Title III Bankruptcy Court, “administrative headaches” would be created by having to reverse its effects and sanctions could be applied.

“I will study the bill once it is dispatched to me,” the governor said. “The bill must be approved by both chambers; the House approved it and now the bill is in the Senate.”

After the New Progressive Party delegation spokesperson in the House, Rep. Carlos “Johnny” Méndez Núñez, called on Pierluisi via letter to sign the legislation into law -- the former House speaker had previously indicated that the delegation could be part of an override of a possible veto -- the governor said the spokesperson is anticipating that he will do so.

“I have not made that decision yet because I have to study this in detail,” he said. “I want to know the fiscal impact that this has, and if I have to make a request to the board, I will do so at the appropriate time.”

HB 120 would include public servants, employees of the judicial system and teachers. The legislation, which had remained on the table in the previous Legislature, was approved with amendments to increase from 15 to 17 the representation of teachers and pensioners in the trust for the joint administration of the retirement systems, which is created by the law.

Along with the bill, the House also approved HB 523 to reaffirm that the Legislature will not pass any pension cuts. Both measures pass on to the Senate.

Meanwhile, when asked about his stance toward the oversight board claiming that House Joint Resolution 63, which proposes that the Comptroller’s Office audit the public debt going back to 1952, would impose an unnecessary task, Pierluisi defended the resolution.

“You have to realize that the Comptroller’s Office has an important role in our system of government,” Pierluisi said. “It is up to that office to review all the actions of senior government officials, all their determinations. It is up to that office to make findings when there is any possible irregularity, to make recommendations and referrals.”

“What I want is for that office to do its duty,” he added. “Because, at the end of the day, we are talking about huge issues that ended up causing a bankruptcy process that is shameful.”

The governor also pointed out that after the audit process “the people are going to have the benefit of their findings, recommendations, and accusations and that will remain so for history.”

Pierluisi, when asked by reporters, said he did not have a role in bond issuances, for example when he served as resident commissioner under the administration of former Gov. Luis Fortuño Burset.

“No, because I have never had a role in the Puerto Rico government’s issuances,” he said. “Now I would have as governor, but in the past, no.”

On Tuesday, David Skeel, the oversight board chairman, insisted that the entity created under the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management and Economic Stability Act (commonly known as PROMESA), had already done everything that could have been done in a debt audit.

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