• The Star Staff

Governor unveils fiscal year 2021-2022 budget

By The Star Staff

Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia on Wednesday held a virtual conference to present the government’s budget for fiscal year (FY) 2022 totaling $10.7 billion, which is about $700 million more than the baseline proposed by the federal Financial Oversight and Management Board.

The oversight board proposed a budget of $10 billion for the general fund, but the governor insisted that his budget represents a 5% increase when compared to the board’s baseline budget. He said his budget is consistent with the expected increase in government collections.

The budget for FY 2022, which starts in July, was submitted to the oversight board on Tuesday for its approval. The board will ascertain whether the budget complies with the current fiscal plan.

Pierluisi spoke in an online conference as he is in isolation because he was in close contact with San Juan Mayor Miguel Romero, who tested positive for COVID-19.

The $10.7 billion budget includes additional resources “for strategic initiatives and to ensure the proper functioning of key agencies and departments,” Pierluisi said.

The budget contains zero cuts for municipalities and the University of Puerto Rico, which are two of the items the oversight board has said it wants to cut.

“Of that additional $700 million, there is $125 million allocated to the ‘pay-go,’ or the payment of pensions, and we believe that it is a miscalculation on the board’s part,” the governor said. “So we are really talking about $570 million and that is a 5% increase.”

The proposed consolidated budget totals $26.34 billion, of which $7.2 billion are federal funds and $8.3 billion are special funds.

Among the items detailed in the budget is an allocation of $127 million for the Department of Transportation and Public Works to finance programs for highway maintenance. The administration of former Gov. Ricardo Rosselló Nevares established the “Abriendo Caminos” program to address the same problem.

Pierluisi earmarked $1.6 million to the Musical Arts Corp. “in order to ensure the continuous operation of cultural institutions as represented by the Puerto Rico Symphony Orchestra [PRSO].” That could cause a problem with the oversight board because since 2019 it has repeatedly requested cuts for the arts and music programs on the island. In June 2019, the board demanded a $1.3 million cut to the PRSO.

Some $1.3 million was allocated to pay for six presidential delegates, who will be chosen in a special election that the New Progressive Party intends to carry out to lobby for statehood in Washington, D.C. after the statehood option won the “Yes or No” status plebiscite held with the general elections on Nov. 3.

The island House of Representatives on Tuesday passed legislation to repeal that special election. The governor said he plans to veto the bill.

Some $6 million, meanwhile, was earmarked to enforce the executive order that declares a state of emergency to curb violence against women.

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