Faced with the fact that the Oversight Board announced a pilot program to demand fiscal plans from 10 municipalities, several mayors said yesterday they had reservations about the possibility of joining the lawsuit that the Municipality of San Juan would file against the entity, because they recognize that PROMESA gives the Board the power to intervene in municipal finances.
Although there seems to be a widespread feeling of mistrust over the Board´s intervention in municipalities, some mayors from majority parties doubt it will be possible to curb its power over municipal finances.
"PROMESA empowers the Board to go where they understand they want to go. I am not going to invest resources so that something we know eventually prevails, which is that PROMESA prevails over any litigation filed by municipalities," said William Alicea, the mayor of Aibonito one of the municipalities the Board selected for the pilot program that, among other things, requires them to submit fiscal plans.
Alicea recalled that the Legislature did not prevail in the dispute with the Board, and the body is now collaborating with the entity.
The Board announced last week that Aibonito, Barranquitas, Camuy, Cidra, Comerío, Isabela, Orocovis, Quebradillas, San Sebastián, and Villalba will participate in a pilot program that seeks to identify alternatives and best practices that ensure “fiscally responsible and sustainable local units of government.” The Center for Municipal Revenue Collection will be also part of the pilot program.
San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, who is running for governor in the 2020 elections, announced Saturday that she instructed the municipality´s legal team to file a lawsuit against the Board to stop the oversight on municipalities finances.
Although San Juan is not part of the Board´s pilot plan, Cruz insisted that she has active legitimacy to file a lawsuit, anticipating that the capital city will eventually be part of the entity´s oversight.
For San Germán mayor Isidro Negrón, Cruz is fully entitled to sue the Board.
But he thinks that "as an act of good faith," the Board is beginning to look at municipalities as a solution to the problem.
"We should wait and see what happens, because 9 of the 10 municipalities have a surplus, and Villalba, which has no surplus, created a renewable energy consortium," Negrón said.
For the mayor of San Germán, the Board´s initiative may result from the fact that they became tired of dealing with the central government.
"It's not that I agree with the Board, I don't believe in anything that is imposed, that has not been elected, but I also have to see the dynamic between the government and the Board, and the fight they had," he said.
Isabela mayor Carlos Delgado Altieri made it clear that he does not believe "in the seven members of the Board" and their imposition over the island either. However, he agreed that PROMESA allows the Board to oversee all government entities, including municipalities.
Noé Marcano, the NPP mayor of Naguabo and vice-president of the Mayors Federation also agreed: "The mayor of San Juan has to understand that PROMESA is above any state legislation. So, in that situation, we must recognize that it has power over the government of Puerto Rico."
"Here, everyone knows the power PROMESA has, whether we like it or not. That is the price of being a colony," he added.
Support -with reservations-.
However, the mayor of San Lorenzo and president of the Association of Mayors José "Joe" Román said that Cruz is in the right direction.
Román said that the Board is “an imposition of the U.S. Congress, where some officials not elected by the people of Puerto Rico were appointed failing to thousands and thousands of Puerto Ricans who believe in democracy.”
He added that mayors cannot allow this entity “to control the resources of municipal governments.”
“They have already demonstrated that they came to impose and the central government is a reflection of that,” he said without specifying whether his municipality would join Cruz's lawsuit.
San Sebastián mayor Javier Jiménez indicated that he should consider the scope of the Board´s intervention and then “I will give my opinion.” However, he did not rule out going to court.
Meanwhile, the mayor of Comerío José A. "Josian" Santiago said that the decision of the mayor of San Juan “is consistent with her original position.”
"I understand her. No one can be satisfied with all they have spent and the little they have done," Santiago said.
"The law (PROMESA), unfortunately, empowers the Board over public funds, and we administer public funds. And we (the mayors) knew – that in the long run – that this was going to come," he added.
He believes that, through the pilot program, mayors will have a voice.
"I think that we, mayors, now have the opportunity to address this issue and make a contrast with the government, that has taken a very confrontational approach and made no progress," he concluded.