The Associated General Contractors of America, Puerto Rico Chapter (AGC-PR) on Monday blasted Senate President Eduardo Bhatia for withdrawing the Puerto Rico Aqueduct Authority Revitalization Act, saying holding off on its approval “is an attack on the island’s welfare and the future of the construction industry.”
By shelving House Bill 2786, lawmakers are cutting off any possibility of propping the cash-strapped public utility, the trade group said.
“Just 48 hours after receiving the backing 25 of the 26 senators present at the Senate hearing last Monday, Senator Bhatia decides to withdraw the measure without explanation,” said Neyssa Varela, president of the AGC-PR. “General contractors we demand urgent legislative action to turn House Bill 2786 into law. We will not be liable for the chaos that will ensue in Puerto Rico over their inaction.”
The trade group warned that holding off further on the bill that would, among other things, create a securitization structure to allow PRASA to go to market to raise financing, would prompt double-digit rate increases and the loss of hundreds of jobs “that would add to the more than 7,000 jobless people who are victims of this situation.”
Inaction would also lead to an inevitable deterioration of the public utility’s infrastructure, representing millions in losses, and could lead to a health crisis on the island due to poor water quality. The group also predicted that Puerto Rico’s reputation as a place to invest and do business would be eroded due to lack of modern infrastructure.
The bill that had already been approved at the House would enable PRASA to have funds to pay off its debt with creditors as well as local contractors, who are owed more than $150 million. PRASA suspended payments in April 2015, the trade group spokeswoman said.
“For 20 months, PRASA has owed the construction industry. Today I ask, what company, which individual can wait almost two years to get paid for their work?” Varela said. “Have our elected leaders failed to earn their salary?”
House Bill 2786 was introduced in February 2016 by Rep. Rafael “Tatito” Hernández, chairman of the House Finance Committee, proposing the securitization mechanism. After public hearings and discussions at a joint House-Senate conference committee, Bhatia withdrew the bill that was in line for the governor’s signature.