April 5, 2018; El Nuevo Dia
Puerto Rican lawmakers are fighting back against the powers of the Fiscal Oversight Board (or La Junta, as Puerto Ricans call it) where they can—in budget appropriations. Last week, the Senate unanimously approved a measure by Independence Senator Juan Dalmau ordering a stop payment to the board for salary, operations, and professional services.
In essence, the legislature and the country is balking at paying the salary and operations of the board that rules over it. The board has a $60 million budget this year and has asked for an increase to $80 million a year, with $1.7 million of that going to salaries. Its executive director, Natalie Jaresko, makes $625,000 a year in a country where the average annual salary was $27,248 in 2017, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Constitutionalist lawyer Efren Rivera Ramos said, “The governor and the Legislature would have to challenge in the courts the power of Congress to grant that power to the Junta.” In other words, as he told local Puerto Rico paper El Nuevo Dia, “That would imply challenging the powers of Congress over Puerto Rico under the territorial clause.” In other words, this move by Puerto Rican legislators on the island challenges the legitimacy of the US’s rule over Puerto Rico.
Even Governor Ricardo Rosselló appears to have gained some fighting spirit. About the measure, he said, “Looking ahead, any alternative that is on the table and that we can use to defend the people of Puerto Rico, we will use it…the steps for the future are going to be defending.”
The board did not respond to requests for comments, but, according to El Nuevo Dia, the president, Thomas Rivera Schatz, said that the message to the Legislature is, “That they understand that we do not bend and respond to the people who selected us.”
Sen. Dalmau said, in support of the measure, “On each occasion, the more the economic and fiscal crisis deepens, the greater the penalty on the part of the JSF, which proposes austerity and adjusting the belt and dismantling the public service and the university system; they operate as if they have no belt to adjust.”
Carlos “Johnny” Mendez, president of the House of Representatives, called the JSF the “most crude and cruel presentation of imperial power.”
As NPQ readers know, the context is the rebuilding effort after Hurricane Maria and issues of sovereignty and equity are paramount. Please see NPQ’s special reporting on the Puerto Rico recovery.—Cyndi Suarez