Nine local trade organizations representing contractors, mechanics, architects and engineers, among others, raised a collective red flag of concern over the looming possibility of a shutdown of the Puerto Rico Highway and Transportation Authority, saying it would be “chaos” and would leave hundreds of workers on the street during the holiday season.
The General Contractors Association, the Puerto Rican Concrete Association, the Puerto Rico, the Mechanical Contractors Association, the Electrical Contractors Association, the College of Architects and Landscape Architects, the College of Engineers and Land Surveyors, the Aggregates Production Industry, the Homebuilders Association, and the Building Materials Merchants Association reacted as one to the impasse between Gov. Alejandro García-Padilla and lawmakers over the approval of a fuel tax hike to float the Highway Authority’s debt.
García-Padilla has said that if the tax is not approved this week, the agency — and services offered by the Metropolitan Bus Authority, the Urban Train and the Maritime Transportation Authority — will come to a halt on Monday, leaving thousands stranded.
Lawmakers, who have before them House Bill 2212 approving the fuel tax increase proposed to address the Highway Authority’s $2.2 billion debt, were convened to an extraordinary session but recessed until that same day.
“On Monday morning thousands of workers and public and private professionals of the construction industry will find themselves jobless, as they directly and indirectly work in construction, repair and maintenance of highways,” the group said in a joint statement. “Not to mention the domino effect this has on other sectors of the economy, such as food stores, shops and other goods. Moreover, it’s right before the start of the Christmas season.”
The trade groups likened the would-be debacle with the closure of the central government in 2006, which they say still resonates.
“An additional risk posed by this closure is the loss of federal funds for road construction projects,” the group said, urging the legislature and the executive to solve the Highway Authority’s fiscal problems and avoid its impending shutdown.
Engineers and Surveyors back proposed hike
Meanwhile, on Tuesday, Engineers and Land Surveyors Interim President, Edgardo Martínez, said the institution supports the proposed fuel tax increase, as a mechanism to address the debt the Highway Authority has with the Government Development Bank.
“We need to urgently address the grave situation we face and we can not let the GDB reach insolvency, as it is one of the most important drivers of the economy,” Martínez said. “Nor is it possible to allow the suspension of an essential service such as public transportation.”
He said the time to pass the new tax is now, when petroleum prices have dropped.
“Of course this is a measure that nobody would like to have to support, but the alternative cannot be that the government leave 75,000 people stranded without transportation, 3,200 employees out on the street and a $2.2 billion debt unattended,” Martínez said.