Puerto Rico's governor will seek to have a debt payment moratorium and economic development initiatives added to a Republican bill to help resolve the territory's financial crisis.
Gov. Alejandro García Padilla will also be seeking to reduce the proposed powers of fiscal control board and to assign the power to restructure Puerto Rico's debt to a responsible party, Puerto Rico Chamber of Commerce President José Vázquez Barquet said after meeting with the governor on Thursday. García Padilla met with the group as part of an effort to keep a degree of local control in the legislation, which was introduced this week in the United States House of Representatives.
"Puerto Ricans must present a united front opposed to a board that deprives the country of its own government," García Padilla said in a statement Saturday. "To do this, this week I will be calling for meetings with the gubernatorial candidates of all political parties and with other governmental and non-governmental sectors to join us in this basic claim."
Vázquez Barquet and representatives of about 10 Puerto Rican trade groups met the governor in the governor's office, as the governor continued in his effort to meet with all of the candidates to succeed him in this year's election.
The governor is trying to get the private sector leaders, the candidates and other leaders to agree to his four points, Vázquez Barquet said.
An organized restructuring of the debt will be one of the points. It is not important whether it is overseen by a new board, a judge, or done through some other systematic process, Vázquez Barquet said.
Puerto Rico's government is facing large debt payments due on May 1 and July 1, noted Vázquez Barquet, and it doesn't have the money to make these payments. The governor will be seeking the U.S. Congress to authorize a debt payment moratorium before May 1, Vázquez Barquet said. The board may not be set up by then. If it is, then it could start the moratorium. If not, the U.S. Congress could act before then.
In the bill currently sponsored by U.S. Rep Rob Bishop, R-Utah, the proposed control board has too much authority, Vázquez Barquet said. Some oversight is acceptable, but not the "extreme" level found in the bill. As currently proposed, the board would be engaged in "micromanagement."
Vázquez Barquet said that in the board's currently proposed form, all contracts the government entered into would have to get board approval, which is impractical.
All the private sector representatives in the meeting agreed that the board needed to have sufficient power to ensure good government decisions.
Scaling back the board's powers was one of the three points that the governor will request from Congress.
The fourth point will be a request to Congress to include economic development measures. These may include asking Congress to include Puerto Rico in the earned income tax credit program, to assist the commonwealth in lowering its high electricity charges, and to give the island parity federal health care coverage.
Regarding the last point, the government currently anticipates that federal Medicaid funding will be cut by 75% at some point in 2017. This drop-off would devastate the island's healthcare industry, which is already struggling, Vázquez Barquet said.
Finally, the U.S. Congress is currently working on a corporate tax reform. Puerto Rico will ask that it be crafted in a way that doesn't harm its economy.
The group of private sector representatives agreed to endorse these four requests of Congress, Vázquez Barquet said.
As the Bishop bill now stands none of the economic development requests are present. Instead, there is a proposal to cut the island's minimum wage for those under 26 and create the position of economic revitalization director.