PDP senator: Governor is defending a ‘deceased’ budget

Zaragoza foresees no significant changes in House resolution

By Pedro Correa Henry

Twitter: @pete_r_correa

Special to The Star

The day after Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia stated his opposition to the $10.1 billion budget passed by the island House of Representatives and urged the upper chamber to “right wrongs,” Senate Treasury Committee Chairman Juan Zaragoza Gómez suggested Tuesday that the governor discard his own budget plan, which the lawmaker said “never met its legal terms.”

“What he’s saying, the budget was so good, so good, that they didn’t pass it,” Zaragoza said.

In an interview at the Capitol, Zaragoza said that contrary to what Pierluisi asserted on Monday, the budget plan and amendments under House Resolution 144 have been negotiated with the federal Financial Oversight and Management Board (FOMB) and balance the central government’s fiscal costs.

“Right now, two budgets are running, ours and the FOMB’s, because the board denied the governor’s budget when they told him through a letter that it was in non-compliance with the fiscal plan,” the senator said. “What the governor is essentially doing is like we do at funerals, saying how good the deceased was.”

“Obviously, the deceased are always good; you’ve never seen a deceased person who is bad,” the former Treasury secretary added.

Zaragoza said meanwhile that one of the amendments that concerns him is the $15 million assignment to the Department of Correction and Rehabilitation to cover a wage increase promised to correctional officers.

“That amendment involves money, and we haven’t discussed it with the [oversight] board,” he said. “Every other amendment that involves funding, such as the University of Puerto Rico, the Puerto Rico Police Bureau, the municipalities, we spoke with the board already.”

“Like it or not, the board is here, and we have to hustle with them,” he said. “That’s the road we chose; I think it is a dignifying road, and we accomplished most of the things we wanted, even though we wanted to have funds [allocated] to increase teachers and police officers’ wages.”

Nonetheless, he said, the Senate “will face the board to defend the allocation to increase the correctional officers’ wage.”

When asked if he sees House Resolution 144 going to a conference committee, Zaragoza said he would not be surprised if the legislation should face changes from district senators of the Popular Democratic Party.

“I will be meeting with [independent] Sen. José Vargas Vidot and Dignity Project Sen. Joanne Rodríguez Veve’s legislative advisers to show them our budget plan,” he said. “And I will present the budget we wrote not to get a vote in favor, but to show [them] what we are doing; [they] decide what to do after that.”

“To the New Progressive Party minority, we seek to give them at least some documents so they know what we are doing,” he added.

Zaragoza denied allegations that the Legislature increased its budget to $17 million.

He said the Board allocated funds to cover repairs at the Capitol, $5 million for liquidation for employees from the former administration, and to pay for water and electric power operating costs.

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