Island House speaker files petition against fiscal board for ‘unconstitutionality and illegality"
Claims board is ‘composed of seven tyrants imposed by Congress’
By Pedro Correa Henry
Special to The Star
Rep. Rafael “Tatito” Hernández Montañez, speaker of the Puerto Rico House of Representatives, and other members of the Popular Democratic Party (PDP) delegation in the lower chamber announced Sunday that they have filed a petition against the Puerto Rico Financial Oversight and Management Board (FOMB) at the United States District Court to hear claims that the board is overriding decisions from both the executive and legislative branches of the island government, which undermines Puerto Rico’s democracy and principles of the separation of powers.
In an interview with the STAR, Hernández said that although the oversight board can unilaterally override the decisions of both branches and present its own budget because the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management and Economic Stability Act (PROMESA) allows it, the federal entity is not allowed to file legislation that deviates from the fiscal plan budget.
“The board can say that the maximum [budget] it will approve … is about $9 billion and you can’t go over that, and the Puerto Rico government comes and passes a $9.2 billion budget; if the Puerto Rico government does that, then the board comes with its power, which it has, and lowers the $9.2 billion per year and adjusts all the items. It can do that,” the House speaker said. “The problem is that after the budget was reduced, the FOMB included language in the resolution that claims that ‘the money must be used in this form and in that form, and I request to cut 15% of the retiree pension as that’s the public policy viewpoint, I will cut the budget from the municipalities,’ which is another word for legislating.”
Hernández said the petition also includes the four earlier budget proposals from the oversight board and documents that allege imbalance in all four budgets, something that PROMESA does not allow.
“In the exercise, they are always claiming you can’t do this, you can’t do that; they are legislating and governing,” he said. “That is why our petition claims that, in its praxis, the U.S. Congress imposed seven tyrants who were not elected by Puerto Rican citizens, which is undemocratic at its root.”
“This is challenging the essence of what made the United States of America,” Hernández said, adding that the lawsuit claims that congressional actions relating to the territories, such as the creation of entities, are subject to separation of powers principles and must ensure that U.S. citizens living in the territories enjoy a republican form of government that protects them from tyranny or autocracy.
“The Congress imposed seven little monarchs who unilaterally claim what is supposed to be done in Puerto Rico,” he added.
When asked about the importance of the court ruling in the PDP delegation’s favor, the House speaker said such a ruling “would be important for Puerto Rico as we are drawing the line on who’s going to govern and manage the island’s bankruptcy, which could be in the hands of officers elected by the people.”
The STAR asked for a reaction on the new agreement reached by the oversight board with several creditor groups to reach a plan of adjustment to resolve $35 billion in related and unrelated debt claims, and to reduce maximum annual payments to $1.15 billion for current interest bonds. Hernández said he is “waiting for Gov. Pedro Pierluisi to present the fiscal plan on March 8.”
“This is an analysis that can’t be done exclusively with the agreement’s point of view; you have to see everything else that surrounds such an agreement,” he said. “We must see this in a holistic fashion. On March 9, the PDP delegation will have their opinions on the agreement.”
When the STAR sought a response to the lawsuit from the oversight board, the entity’s spokesperson, Edward Zayas, said “there will be no comment at this time.”