Nonprofit organization Open Spaces filed a motion before the Puerto Rico Supreme Court to overturn a decision by the Appellate Court to keep the government’s Report on Tax Reduction Agreements under seal.
The report listing tax abatement agreements was prepared and delivered to the Financial Oversight and Management Board for Puerto Rico in July 2017.
The executive director of Open Spaces, Cecille Blondet, explained that ordinarily the information on concessions and tax exemptions is public in U.S. jurisdictions.
However, in Puerto Rico the organization had to resort to the highest forum with a legal recourse seeking for a review of a judgment by the Puerto Rico Court of Appeals that in a divided opinion (two to three), decided that the report be kept out of the public eye.
With this, the Appellate reversed a previous decision by the San Juan Superior Court in favor of its publication.
“The motion states that the Court of Appeals erred in its assessment of the facts and in the application of the law, since the jurisprudence of the Puerto Rico Supreme Court establishes access to the information and documents generated by public agencies such as a right protected by the Constitution that derives from the right to freedom of expression,” said Blondet.
“In addition to that is the fact that the information collected and contained in the report is not available to the public anywhere else. It is the ministerial duty of the Treasury Secretary to disseminate it to guarantee effective citizen participation,” Blondet said.
Open Spaces requested a copy of the report from the Treasury Department more than a year ago and, given the agency’s refusal to turn it over, it made an appeal to the San Juan Superior Court. In December 2018, the court approved Open Space’s petition, and ordered the government of Puerto Rico to disclose the requested information immediately.
However, the government insisted on keeping the information secret and resorted to the Court of Appeals to avoid the publication in Puerto Rico of information that “has been public in the United States since the 1970s, as well as in many other countries in the world,” Blondet said.
“The island cannot remain in the dark in fiscal and budgetary matters. You cannot do a serious budget exercise without access to this information,” Blondet said.
“Before the answer was that the information of the concessions and exemptions was not available. Now, we know it is because it was compiled for that report. The island has the right to have this report made public,” said Blondet.
Open Space’s position is supported by other U.S. mainland-based organizations that are experts in these matters, she said. Good Jobs First, which publishes the “Subsidy Tracker” on the internet, and the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities — both based in Washington DC — have expressed that they want to present their writings to the Supreme Court as friends of the court.