House Treasury chief: Budget bill is a work in progress
By The Star Staff
House Treasury Committee Chairman Jesús Santa Rodríguez said this week that he expects the version of the budget for fiscal year 2022-2023 that was approved in the lower chamber to undergo more changes.
The budget, he said, does not reflect the total amount or the items established by the Financial Oversight and Management Board.
“Although it was approved in the House, and eventually it will be approved in the Senate, the fight is still not over,” Santa Rodríguez said late Tuesday. “I believe that the discussion, debate and negotiation will be stronger when these two things are approved, but you have to go through this process for that to happen.”
“I am confident, as happened last year, that most of the changes this Legislature made to the budget presented by the Board would be accepted,” he added.
The House substitute measure for Joint Resolution 307 and Joint Resolution 337 received 43 votes in favor, and the votes against were from the Puerto Rican Independence Party, the Citizen Victory Movement and independent Rep. Luis Raúl Torres Cruz. In it, $12.5 billion was allocated for public finances during the course of the next fiscal year.
“If it is not the largest budget, it is one of the largest the country has ever had; [we are] fulfilling all the obligations and looking for it to be balanced,” Santa Rodríguez said. “Understanding that there is no perfect budget, understanding that, no matter the budget, in every country sometimes there are more needs than the amount of money there is to support them, this [Treasury] committee and the colleagues in it have made the greatest effort to try to improve the budget that has been presented,” he said.
Santa Rodríguez announced that the budget presented exceeds the approved budget for fiscal year 2021-2022 by about $2.4 billion. According to the lawmaker, the “great difference” between the substitute measure and the budget recommended by the oversight board is an item of $143 million that the federal entity identified for an unused reserve fund.
However, the Legislature accepted Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia’s recommendation to allocate that money to “carry out projects and work in favor of the country.”
Santa Rodríguez emphasized that, among the most important allocations, the budget includes promised salary increases for nurses, police officers and firefighters; an item of $22 million for the reserve of incentives for meeting cost-sharing goals for municipalities; $5 million for child and adolescent mental health initiatives; and $1.2 million to combat child poverty.
Likewise, $10 million was granted for the Comprehensive Cancer Center, $2.5 million to cover increases in the salaries of resident physicians at the University of Puerto Rico (UPR), and $200,000 to create the Minimum Wage Commission, among other items.
UPR will receive an allocation of $500 million plus $50 million for its scholarship fund. In addition, the institution will get $40 million if it manages to establish and benefit from a pilot plan for joint activities among the 11 campuses.
The university will also receive other contributions and payments from resident doctors, which total about $602 million in funds granted.