• The San Juan Daily Star

Oversight Board rejects bills to hike salaries for firefighters, health care workers

By The Star Staff

The Financial Oversight and Management Board (FOMB) said three bills that proposed increases to the salaries of firefighters and health care workers are inconsistent with the fiscal plan.

The information is contained in two letters written by FOMB General Counsel Jaime El Koury to Popular Democratic Party Sen. Juan Zaragoza on April 22.

Senate Joint Resolution 230 and Senate Bill 746 both propose to increase the salaries of employees of the Bureau of the Fire Department of Puerto Rico beyond the increases already included in the certified commonwealth fiscal plan but do not specify the source for the increases.

Any bill that proposes to increase spending without offsetting savings or new revenues is, by definition, inconsistent with the fiscal plan and in violation of Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act (PROMESA), El Koury said.

“If either bill is a priority for the legislature, the FOMB is willing to work with you to explore how they may be modified to be consistent with the fiscal plan and compliant with PROMESA,” he said.

Senate Joint Resolution 230 would allocate $11.9 million to establish a new base salary of $2,000 per month for all members of the Fire Bureau, including officers and civilian employees, relying on the reduction in debt restructuring expenses following the approval of the plan of adjustment to fund these increases.

Senate Bill 746 would establish a new base salary of $2,000 per month for all members of the Fire Bureau. SB 746 differs from SJR 230 in that it requires the Office of Management and Budget to identify and allocate the necessary funds to cover these increases.

Regarding Senate Bill 748, El Koury said the current version of the bill, among other things, purports to declare access to health-related services to be an “essential service” under PROMESA, and require the Health Department to create a plan that includes increasing salaries and hiring of healthcare personnel.

The bill, as proposed, seeks to evade fiscal plan health care-related reforms. To the extent such an effort could be effectuated, it would be inconsistent with the fiscal plan, he said.

As for Senate Bill 748’s requirement that the Department of Health outline a plan for adjusting salary scales for individuals working in the healthcare sector, the creation of such a plan does not present an issue in and of itself. However, if such a plan is developed, it would have to be consistent with the Fiscal Plan’s requirements for comprehensive civil service reform, he said.

If the legislature wishes to proceed with Senate Bill 748 and include this provision for adjusting salary scales, the legislature should instruct the Department of Health to develop its plan in a manner consistent with the fiscal plan. Otherwise, such a plan will be a waste of valuable time and resources, he said.

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