Puerto Rico governor rejects budget in challenge to board

Monday , July 02, 2018 - 11:22 AM

By DANICA COTO
Associated Press

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — A disagreement over which budget Puerto Rico will use this fiscal year has deepened as the governor of the U.S. territory on Monday signed the version approved by legislators instead of the one implemented by a federal control board over the weekend.

Gov. Ricardo Rossello said the board’s budget is not in Puerto Rico’s best interest and that he is prepared to defend his decision, leading many to believe the issue might end up in court.

“I’m going to use all the tools I have in my arsenal to be able to defend the people of Puerto Rico,” he told reporters.

However, Rossello acknowledged that Puerto Ricans struggling after Hurricane Maria could still be hit by new austerity measures sought by the board amid an 11-year recession.

“I fear this is a symbolic gesture,” he said, referring to the signing of the legislators’ version. He added that a judge could rule in favor of the board.

Rossello said he would provide more details during a televised address scheduled for late Monday afternoon. Meanwhile, board spokesman Jose Luis Cedeno said there would be no immediate comment on the governor’s actions.

Rossello’s announcement comes a day after the board that oversees the island’s finances approved an $8.76 billion budget that cuts government spending by $345 million, including a $24 million cut for the legislature, which would operate with $111 million for fiscal year 2019. The budget complies with a fiscal plan that calls for austerity measures, including a sharp increase in tuition at Puerto Rico’s largest public university and deep cuts to employees’ vacation and sick days.

On Monday, government officials said that some 4,500 public employees have signed up for a type of buyout plan aimed at reducing spending without resorting to layoffs.

The governor said he hopes the island’s Senate and the board can still reach an agreement that benefits the 3.3 million people of Puerto Rico, many of whom fear they will face even greater economic hardship in the future. More than 2,000 customers still remain without power more than nine months after the Category 4 storm hit, causing what is estimated to be more than $100 billion in damage.

“We will not rest until all of Puerto Rico is illuminated,” Walter Higgins, CEO of Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, said in a statement Monday.

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