The Puerto Rico Senate voted 25-0 Wednesday to end the territorial government’s funding of the Puerto Rico Oversight Board.
The Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act defines the board as part of the Puerto Rico’s government and specifies that Puerto Rico’s government revenues are to be used for its funding.
Over the past week Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló has defended his independent power relative to that of the Oversight Board and denounced a letter from U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop’s (R-Utah) to the board as aimed at squelching his rightful power as the elected leader of the territory.
Senate President Thomas Rivera Schatz said, “The key message we want to send here is that we do not bend, we respond to the people who choose us, and we defend the Puerto Rico citizens and the American citizens who live on the island.”
“If there is anyone who defends the board, I urge you to tell us if the American dream and the principals of freedom and democracy that inspired the creation of the American nation accept as good that the Board’s executive director [Natalie Jaresko] earns $650,000 with all possible luxury benefits," Rivea Schatz said.
The board's executive director "lives at the expense of the people of Puerto Rico while trying to eliminate the Christmas bonus to workers of private companies and the government,” Rivera Schatz said, “and is also trying to reduce your working hours or eliminate your vacation. And who is attacking the medical services, education, and housing of the Puerto Rican people.”
Puerto Rico Sen. Carmelo Rios Santiago, spokesman for the majority New Progressive Party in the Senate, said that in the last 24 hours “we have seen an affront to an elected government…. The clash between the government of Puerto Rico and the Oversight Board is inevitable. Today is the first step.”
“If [the U.S.] Congress believes that the board is so necessary, they should pay for it,” Rios Santiago continued. The $100 million the board is seeking is greater than the costs of the Puerto Rico Senate and House of Representatives together, he said, according to a written statement from the Senate press office.
Five members of the Puerto Rico Senate either abstained from the vote or were absent from the chamber from the vote.
Spokespeople for the Oversight Board didn’t immediately respond to a request for a comment.
If the Puerto Rico House of Representatives and governor approve the measure, it is likely to lead to a legal fight with the Oversight Board over control of revenues and spending and perhaps other matters.
On Wednesday Rivera Schatz also submitted a bill to cap all government salaries at a maximum of $60,000 year. The bill would cover all professionals and elected officials and would extend to the public corporations and municipalities as well as the central government.
Also on Wednesday, Gov. Ricardo Rosselló said he planned to submit a revised Puerto Rico fiscal plan on Thursday without austerity measures that the board is demanding.
"We are not going to allow [the Oversight Board] to challenge us and to take away the power to take public policy determinations in order to achieve not only the fiscal objectives but, most importantly, the welfare of all Puerto Ricans," he said at a press conference.