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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Senate approves $13 billion budget

By The Star Staff

The island Senate loudly approved the fourth budget of the current Legislative Assembly late Saturday with a total of $13,062,302,000, which reflects an increase of $351 million compared to the budget for the fiscal year that ended Sunday.

After being sent to a conference committee, the House substitute for House Joint Resolution 624 presented the items for Puerto Rico’s various agencies and public corporations for the fiscal year 2024-2025, which takes effect today until June 30, 2025.

Finance Committee Chairman Juan Zaragoza Gómez said the University of Puerto Rico (UPR) is the priority of the budget, since “they stopped budget cuts.”

Regarding the general budget, compared to the 2021 budget it was increased by $3 billion, and by $300 million compared to the current fiscal year budget.

In the conference report of the measure, items were presented such as the University of Puerto Rico (UPR), which will have $500,883,000; the Department of Public Safety (DSP) with $1,249,714,000; and the Department of Education (DE) with $2,869,674,000 as the agency with the largest amount allocated.

“We managed to maintain an additional allocation of $102 million for the UPR,” Zaragoza Gómez said during his turn to remark on the budget. “We have managed to insert the UPR as a priority […], $67 million for the defined contribution of police retirement under law 106 […], $21 million for the IDEAR program for the decentralization of the Department of Education […]. This budget is ours, yes. Well, it arises from the [Financial Oversight and Management] Board’s priorities, we have managed to insert ours because we have worked on them.”.

Sen. María de Lourdes Santiago Negrón of the Puerto Rican Independence Party said she would vote against the budget, because it “exposes the weakness of the government of Puerto Rico with the [oversight] Board.”

Likewise, Citizen Victory Movement (MVC), Sens. Ana Irma Rivera Lassén and Rafael Bernabe Riefkohl spoke out against the approval of the budget.

“I have no doubts about Comrade Zaragoza’s intentions, but that does not eliminate the problem we have with the Board, that no matter what we say, it always has the last word […],” Rivera Lassén said. “I reiterate that this Senate should amend this budget to remove the money to the Board. The money the Board has in this budget is incredible. No matter what we say here, they have the last word. This Senate should not accept the conditions of the Board and should respect itself and have dignity.”

Independent Sen. José Vargas Vidot stated that “we must never forget that we are dealing with a matter of political immorality of great proportions …”

“The UPR remains bankrupt with an additional $102 million,” he said. “It’s good that we have the same budget, but the Board has the UPR strangled.”

New Progressive Party Minority Leader Thomas Rivera Schatz, confronted his fellow senators who expressed themselves against the budget and who questioned the little time they had to analyze the document of more than 400 pages.

“Those who say that they have not had time to read the budget, it would seem that those colleagues have a touristic vision of their functions in the Senate, because the Senate Resolution was filed on March 5 and whoever wanted to read it had all the time to read it,” Rivera Schatz said. “There were several public hearings and the senator who did not want to find out did not do so […] All measures allow minority reports to be filed and none were filed.”

“They want to demonize the Board as if with that they have justified their laziness and incompetence,” he added.

The upper chamber continued to form conference committees in the face of discrepancies that arose regarding amendments made by the House of Representatives to some bills.

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