Governor on agency budget cuts: ‘We will bite the bullet’

By Pedro Correa Henry

Twitter: @pete_r_correa

Special to The Star

Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia reacted Tuesday to the calls made by some government agency chiefs in the Legislative Assembly regarding the budget cuts for fiscal year (FY) 2021-2022.

“We are going to do what we have to do,” the governor said at a press conference. “We are going to do what we have to do to provide the people with the essential services they deserve.”

“The budget process has not culminated. So it is justified for them to advocate or ask for more resources. Because more resources are going to facilitate their work,” Pierluisi added. “But it doesn’t matter, with the budget we have, we are going to do what we have to do to fulfill our responsibility.”

Pierluisi also said the possible approval of additional federal COVID-19 pandemic relief funds by Congress will help offset the projections made by the Financial Oversight and Management Board in its budget recommendation.

His statements came alongside the joint public hearings of the House and Senate Treasury committees, where several agency heads complained because the budget recommended by the federal oversight board would not allow them to meet payroll, salary increases for public employees who have been recommended for a raise, or to absorb transfer employees from the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA).

Last Tuesday, Forensic Sciences Institute (FSI) Executive Director María Conte Miller, said that although the entity was assigned $16.7 million for the next fiscal year, more funds were required to recruit new personnel and provide adequate pay to current workers.

“Forensic Sciences requires a classification and compensation plan that offers attractive salaries to our experts, guarantees job retention, and prevents the flight of talent that negatively impacts the amount of scientific analysis necessary to resolve legal disputes, causing the failure of justice and reduction in the clarification of criminal acts,” Conte Miller said.

When asked by lawmakers, Conte Miller stressed that the FSI does have the funds for handling sexual assault forensic evidence (SAFE) kits.

She also said the agency is working on hundreds of kits that had been accumulating for years due to the loss of specialized personnel.

“That money the [oversight] board approved for us paved the way for a requested budget reprogramming,” Conte Miller said. “Currently, we are working on 1,300 kits with a specialized private company. That company is working with the kits we deliver until 2023.”

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