Lawmakers’ Inferiority Complex

by John Marino

March 1, 2002
Copyright © 2002 THE PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.

. JOHN MARINOAfter losing a face-off with La Fortaleza over who would approve a new 10-year water utility contract, lawmakers at the Capitol are starting to eat their own.

New Progressive and Puerto Rican Independence Party representatives won a court battle this week against the Popular Democratic Party majority when a judge ruled that their lawsuit had merit and should not be dismissed. The suit charges the PDP majority with passing a set of laws in an unconstitutional manner -- after the minority members had left the Capital for their homes late one evening, thinking the session had been adjourned until the next day.

Then on Tuesday, the House Ethics Committee, acting on a complaint by PDP-appointed House Secretary Nestor Duprey, found NPP Rep. Angel Cintrón guilty of violating the Full-Time Legislator Law and failing to attend public hearings on a regular basis because the lawmaker was going to law school while serving in the House.

The committee is recommending a public censure and a 10-day suspension without pay.

For a while, a looming showdown with Gov. Calderón over who would have the final say -- the executive or legislative branch -- on picking one of the four companies vying to run the commonwealth's underperforming water utility -- had actually sparked a tri-partisan air at the Capitol, with lawmakers apparently united in their desire to show Gov. Calderón their mettle.

But PDP lawmakers were summoned to La Fortaleza, and Calderón told them she would veto the unanimously passed bill granting the Legislature the right to approve the company that will take over the administration of the water utility through a 10-year contract.

She also warned them that there would be consequences if they chose to override her veto -- as they had threatened to do -- which would have been a first in Puerto Rico history.

While some lawmakers, like Senate President Antonio Fas Alzamora, talked tough going into the La Fortaleza meeting earlier this month, they left "with their tails between their legs," as one observer put it.

So after briefly flirting with taking on the executive branch, island lawmakers seem content once again to rip into each other.

Minority lawmakers relished the opportunity this week to hold a press conference to urge taxpayers to hold off on paying their taxes. If the courts finally rule in their favor, the bills passed at that after-midnight session -- which include a measure to delay repeal of the so-called marriage penalty tax -- could be annulled. That means that the average married working couple will save about $800 on taxes this year.

The Cintrón decision, which appears to be a petty attack against the lawmaker shortly after he was named New Progressive Party secretary general, will no doubt stir passions in the Capitol even more -- and could lead to a flurry of ethics charges lodged against lawmakers by political opponents.

Meanwhile, at the Senate, PDP lawmakers are just as eager as their NPP counterparts to lace into freshman PDP Sen. Maribel Rodríguez, the target of corruption investigations since her husband was indicted by federal authorities for extortion and other charges months after taking office as Vega Alta mayor.

Ethics hearings on her alleged misuse of public funds during a trip to the Puerto Rican Day Parade in New York and other charges got underway this week, and she could face expulsion from the Senate.

Senators are likely to reach across party lines to treat her harshly -- in order to make themselves look tough on corruption.

Much of warring among lawmakers is par for the course at the Capitol and may be a sign that they are doing their jobs.

But part of it may be a way for them to deal with what could be an inferiority complex in the wake of the Calderón showdown.

That certainly seemed the case behind the public outbursts this week by House Health Committee Rafael García during public hearings on health reform.

Annoyed that the Health Insurance Administration had undertaken a pilot project on the government becoming a single payer in health reform, García angrily stated that the agency "cannot do anything without the Legislature's permission. From now on, every time the administration does something, we want to be the first to know. We are here representing the people, not angels."

When an Office of Insurance Commissioner official sought to speak, he said "you look like you are crazy. I am going to prescribe valium for you."

There could be another reason besides the Calderón showdown why island lawmakers are feeling inferior these days.

A University of Puerto Rico study released this month found that political status is the No. 1 priority of island lawmakers, but that such burning issues of the day as unionization of public employees did not catch lawmakers' attention in defining their legislative agendas.

With unions representing public workers insisting they want more economic benefits than the budget-busting $100 monthly pay raises pledged by Gov. Calderón during her budget addres, the issue of government employees unionization clearly should be on the radar screens of more island lawmakers.

John Marino, City Editor of The San Juan Star, writes the weekly Puerto Rico Report column for the Puerto Rico Herald. He can be reached directly at: Marino@coqui.net

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