Representatives from a cross-section of the economy expressed their opinions Monday in the wake of the the Financial Oversight and Management Board for Puerto Rico approval of the fiscal plan the island’s government must follow to shore up liquidity and fund essential services.
Lawmakers, bondholders and private-sector representatives took their stand on the plan that includes the use of a furlough program and the removal of Christmas bonuses for public employees to achieve necessary liquidity and budgetary savings, unless the Board ascertains the government’s compliance with certain conditions later this calendar year 2017.
Bonistas del Patio, the organization that represents more than 60,000 Puerto Ricans retirees owed about $15 billion in public debt, applauded the approval the plan presented by Gov. Ricardo Rosselló and urged extending the stay on litigation.
Rafael Rojo, president of the organization, said “the next step should be to achieve an extension of the moratorium on litigation, until year end, so as to allow reasonable time for this administration to achieve voluntary and consensual negotiations with the different types of creditors.”
“In this regard, we urge the Oversight Board to support the government in this effort so that U.S. Congress allows renegotiating the debt outside bankruptcy proceedings, which undoubtedly will provide us with faster access to capital markets,” Rojo said.
For his part, Jorge Irizarry, executive director of the organization added “the vast majority of local creditors, would be at a big disadvantage through a restructuring via Title III of the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management and Economic Stability Act (PROMESA).
“This is because funds that have acquired debt are very well-represented with multiple financial advisors and law firms, but the local guy who bought Puerto Rico government bonds does not have enough resources to have fair representation, and thus defend their interests in court,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Associated General Contractors of America-Puerto Rico Chapter expressed its support for initiatives to promote structural reforms and revitalize Puerto Rico’s infrastructure included in the Fiscal Plan.
“The measures to facilitate business activities, improve capital efficiency, start an energy reform and promote economic development go according to our organization’s philosophy,” said Francisco Diaz-Masso, president of AGC-PR.
“Also, we believe the focus on public-private partnerships as a tool to finance the revitalization of Puerto Rico’s critical infrastructure is viable and successful,” he said.
‘Put children first’
While the Oversight Board held its fifth public meeting in New York City, a group of educators and community leaders rallied outside, urging the federally appointed body to “put children and their education first, not hedge funds and banks.”
A morning rally and press conference outside the meeting was attended by leaders from the Puerto Rico Teachers Association, the American Federation of Teachers, the New York State United Teachers, the Service Employees International Union, the United Federation of Teachers, the New York State Public Employees Federation, the Professional Staff Congress of the City University of New York and community groups.
Aida Díaz, president of the Teachers Association, said “most of the 379,000 students enrolled in our public school system live under the poverty levels. We are convinced that the only way we can bring them out of where they are is through education.”
“The numbers within the board’s fiscal plan have human faces — the faces of our citizens, the faces of our public employees, the faces of our teachers, the faces of our retirees, but most important the faces of our children,” she said.
Meanwhile, AFT President Randi Weingarten said, “Today, we stand with Puerto Rico’s children, parents and educators, who are suffering because of a crisis manufactured and exacerbated by hedge funds and banks.”
“Austerity in Puerto Rico has meant severe cuts to public education and other public services and the erosion of retirement security for workers. The teachers’ pension plan has been gutted because the government refused to pay its share,” he said.
Oversight Board Chair José Carrión said the entity has “worked to understand the facts and realities prevalent in Puerto Rico, the options available to the government, and the implications of different approaches to addressing the financial and economic crisis facing the island.”
“We have sought to partner with the government of Puerto Rico and to use the tools made available to us under the law to help provide a better future for the people of Puerto Rico,” he said. “Not just for today, but for our children and future generations. Our people love their home and they deserve to be able to build a future on it, not forced to move away to support their families and their dreams.”