Puerto Rico senators deal blow to governor amid budget clash
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — Austerity measures are looming for Puerto Rico after local senators on Tuesday for the second time shot down a measure aimed at overcoming budget differences between the U.S. territory’s government and a federal control board overseeing its finances.
The vote was a blow to Gov. Ricardo Rossello, who had hastily convened a special session to avoid having a court resolve the issue.
Eighteen of 22 senators rejected a bill that would have repealed some rights given to workers who have been unjustly dismissed. The board would have granted concessions such as not slashing vacation and sick days or eliminating a Christmas bonus if legislators had approved the bill.
Among those who voted against the measure was Thomas Rivera Schatz, president of Puerto Rico’s Senate and a member of the governor’s party.
“If we don’t prevail in court, each one of those who defended Puerto Rico can look into people’s eyes and say, ‘I fought until the end,’” he said.
Rivera also accused the board of blackmailing Puerto Rico’s government at a time the island is struggling to recover from Hurricane Maria and trying to restructure a portion of its $70 billion public debt load amid an 11-year recession. Board spokesman Jose Luis Cedeno said there would be no immediate comment.
Rossello issued a statement saying he had hoped for a “responsible and prudent consideration” of all measures to be debated during the special session, which lasted roughly one hour.
“The president of the Senate chose not to devote time to this issue, leaving our people in the uncertainty caused by the breach in agreement with the (board),” he said.
Puerto Rico now faces two budgets as a result of the disagreement: one approved by the board and another by legislators that Rossello signed on Monday. Hours after he signed it, board director Natalie Jaresko told reporters they would talk with government officials but would head to court if needed to resolve their differences.