Governor stresses administration’s gains, cooperative spirit in State of the Commonwealth speech
By The Star Staff
Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia announced Tuesday that the fiscal year 2022-23 budget will have some $40 million for Christmas bonuses and additional funding for the University of Puerto Rico as well as provide for extensions to the PR-5 and PR-22 highways.
He also announced that starting this summer, Puerto Ricans will be able to get their marbetes, or vehicle inspection stickers, through the internet and reiterated his support for the public-private partnership (PPP) with LUMA Energy, the PPPs proposed for PREPA’s generation assets and the increasing use of renewable energy.
“Tomorrow we will announce energy grants for some 800 businesses that will benefit from renewable systems with an investment of $20 million,” the governor said.
He also vowed to provide $300 million to the Green Energy fund to increase the use of renewables in Puerto Rico and will press the Financial Oversight and Management Board to allow the temporary repeal of the excise tax on gasoline, known as La Crudita, to help consumers.
Pierluisi made his remarks during his state of the commonwealth speech in which he also discussed the budget. It is the first speech since the restructuring of the central government debt
“The agreement is good for Puerto Rico, it cleans up our credit, protects our pensioners, and returns their savings to tens of thousands of public servants …,” the governor said. “Very importantly, it significantly reduces our government’s debt of $33 billion to $7.5 billion, a reduction of almost 80%, and from having to pay 25 cents of every dollar the government took in, to just spending 7 cents of every dollar on debt.”
While he detailed his successes, the governor used the opportunity to rip into the Legislature for ignoring his bills.
“For me it is not important who files a measure or proposes an idea if it is good for Puerto Rico. I have signed 137 measures and I have vetoed 44, many of them with the intention of signing them if errors in their wording are addressed. Now, I have introduced 76 administration measures, and only three have been addressed. And many appointments have been delayed, putting at risk the work that our people deserve,” he said. “Our people chose diversity in this legislative body, not so that we put one party or another first, but so that we put Puerto Rico first, so that we work together for the people who gave us their vote of confidence.”
House Speaker Rafael Hernández Montañez and Senate President José Luis Dalmau Santiago vowed to move his budget forward.
The governor said the new budget contemplates an additional $620 million for the University of Puerto Rico. As he announced recently, Pierluisi proposed a consolidated budget of $28.7 billion, consisting of $12.5 billion for the General Fund, $4.9 billion in Special Funds and $11.2 billion in federal funds.
He made a broad review of the achievements of his administration in his first two years in La Fortaleza and a breakdown of the money allocated through different federal funds for the island.
The permanence of the Christmas bonus was, in the past, one of the topics of bitter discussions between the central government and the Financial Oversight and Management Board. On this occasion, Pierluisi gave assurances that $40 million in Christmas bonuses is included in the projected budget.
The new budget reflects a 20% increase in the public payroll and a 13% reduction in hiring of professional services.
“We also guarantee the allocation of $260 million for additional contributions to the retirement accounts of our police officers, fulfilling my commitment to give them a decent retirement,” the governor said.
‘’Furthermore, we will invest in new academies to recruit 400 new police cadets and an additional 300 firefighters,” he said. “And to better protect our natural resources, we will be holding an academy to recruit 200 new Natural Resource Rangers, something not done since 2004.”
The governor listed some of the achievements of his administration, such as having reached the agreement on the Debt Adjustment Plan, the reduction of unemployment, the increase in the minimum wage and the improvements to the government permit system.