Governor says he’ll accept budget approved by Legislature
By The Star Staff
Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia said Monday he was willing to accept the $10.1 billion budget approved by the island Legislature instead of trying to impose his $10.3 billion budget.
“It falls short, but in the spirit of avoiding controversies and reaching a consensus, we are willing to accept this as the budget amount,” Pierluisi said at a news conference in La Fortaleza.
He asked for some changes, such as a $15 million appropriation to fund salary raises for prison guards.
After the Senate and the House agreed on a single version of the budget, the Financial Oversight and Management Board informed the Legislature that the budget was in violation of the commonwealth fiscal plan. The oversight board supports keeping the budget at $10.1 billion.
House Minority Leader Carlos Méndez Nuñez said during Monday’s session that the legislative minority would vote in favor of reconsidering the budget if the House removes, as the oversight board said, all language that restricts the governor from reprogramming budget funds or appropriating funds for the congressional delegates that would promote statehood.
“We would be willing to do this if the language is eliminated,” he told Debtwire Municipals.
The oversight board said in a letter sent over the weekend that it was willing to accept certain budget allocations proposed by the Legislature if it eliminated several items from the budget, including language that would prevent the governor from reprogramming funds.
The oversight board rejected a $22 million increase in funding for optimization and implementation of changes in management of municipal governments, stating that the money should be conditioned on municipalities meeting certain milestones.
“In addition, there is $22 million of unspent municipal voluntary cost share rolled over from fiscal year (FY) 2021, for a total of $44 million available to the municipalities,” the board said.
Oversight board members also rejected language that would allow a scholarship fund at the University of Puerto Rico (UPR) to be used to finance the recruitment of researchers, internships, purchase of equipment and materials, and research operations in any units and properties of the UPR including agricultural experiment stations and the molecular science building. The board said the funding should be used exclusively for need- based scholarships.
The oversight board also rejected language that prevents the Office of Management and Budget, the Fiscal Agency and Financial Advisory Authority, or the Treasury Department as well as the governor from authorizing the reprogramming or extension of appropriations of prior fiscal years without legislative approval.
The board, nonetheless, said it would be willing to accept certain budget requests and reallocations of funds if the restrictive language was revisited. The changes included incremental budget requests of $4 million for Legislature employee liquidation costs, $3.7 million for the Legislature to pay to the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority and the Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Authority, and $3 million incremental Legislature FY 2022 payroll of which $1.5 million is subject to certain reporting requirements.
Oversight board spokesman Edward Zayas said the board gave the Legislature until midnight Monday to revise the budget to eliminate the violations to the fiscal plan. If the Legislature does not approve any budget for the next fiscal year, then the oversight board has the power to impose its own $10.1 billion budget, which cuts funding to the municipalities and UPR.