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NPP: Budget OK If Excise-Tax Increases Repealed

Reef Patrols To Be Beefed Up

NPP: $132M Health Card Budget Deficit

$3M U.S. Grant For SJ Port Security

PIP: Planning Board Change Blow To Environment

Another Priest Accused

Acevedo Vila Seeks Medicare Parity

Calderon Announces Cabinet Changes

3 Audits Investigate Water Co.

NPP To Vote For Budget If Excise-Tax Increases Repealed

By Proviana Colon Diaz

June 18, 2002
Copyright ©2002 WOW NEWS. All rights reserved.

The House New Progressive Party (NPP) delegation warned Tuesday that it would vote against the island’s proposed budget if Gov. Sila Calderon’s excise tax increases on alcohol, tobacco, and other items, which have already has become law, are not overruled.

"If the excise-tax increases aren’t overruled, we will vote against the budget Thursday," House Minority Leader Anibal Vega Borges said.

Vega Borges made his statements Tuesday along with members from both the House and Senate delegation at Sen. Kenneth McClintock’s office.

The legislators dubbed the new excise-tax-increase laws as "Silazo" and announced the filing of a series of bills that would make the increases unnecessary.

McClintock added that although NPP President Carlos Pesquera has vowed that he would overrule the laws in question if elected governor, the delegation will do everything it can to comply with that promise sooner.

Vega Borges added that there is still time to responsibly balance the budget.

"We reaffirm that it is not necessary to increase excise taxes to balance the budget. That is why we insist on their being overruled," Vega Borges said.

The bills filed by the delegation, however, fail to offer any alternatives for coming up with the funds the Calderon administration argues will be obtained through the excise-tax increase.

Instead, the bills present background on the Calderon administration and her "failed campaign promises." The final section requests the elimination of the increases.

Questioned about the "harsh" language used in all the NPP bills, McClintock said they could agree to eliminate the language if the current increases are overruled.

Yet, he failed to present alternatives to the current laws.

Puerto Rico Environmental Agency To Patrol Coral Reefs

June 18, 2002
Copyright ©2002
Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All rights reserved.

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP)--Puerto Rico's environmental agency has planned new patrols along some of its healthiest coral reefs to prevent damage during holiday weekends and other periods that draw large crowds, the agency's head said Monday.

The reefs off the small Puerto Rican island of Culebra, in particular, often draw hundreds of snorkelers at a time. Boats frequently drop anchor on the coral and damage it.

Secretary Salvador Salas of the Department of Natural and Environmental Resources said some of the busiest weekends bring more than 10,000 visitors to the island's beaches.

"We have to increase patrols on those special days," he said.

He was responding to statements by members of an activist group, Committee for Conservation of the Sea Bottom in Culebra, who want Puerto Rico's government to turn over jurisdiction of Culebra's bays to the municipality in order to strengthen regulation.

The reefs off Culebra are being threatened by heavy boating, with some people anchoring along the shoreline to avoid paying docking fees elsewhere, committee founder Angel Collado Schwarz said.

NPP Anticipates Health Card Budget Deficit Of $132 Million

By Raquel Velazquez

June 18, 2002
Copyright ©2002
WOW News. All rights reserved.

Citing new agreements by the Health Insurance Administration (ASES); the number of health card recipients, and rate increases in both health care and mental health services, New Progressive Party House Minority Leader Rep. Anibal Vega Borges stated the Calderon administration’s "poor fiscal management" would cause an anticipated budget deficit of $132 million in the health card fund for the next fiscal year budget.

"The Governor has said that she wants to change the reform, but she is strangling it," complaint Vega Borges during a press conference on Monday, supported by House Treasury Committee spokesman Rep. Antonio "Tonito" Silva Delgado and Rep. Jose Aponte.

Vega Borges affirmed that for the second consecutive year, the health card will soon have a deficit of more than $100 million, thereby unbalancing the government’s budget once again.

"ASES alleges that their deficit is between $40 and $60 million, when in fact it is no less than approximately $80 to $90 million," stated Vega Borges.

The government Health Reform program has approximately 1.7 million medically indigent health card recipients under its care at a rate of $63.02 per person totaling $109 million expenses per month or $1.3 billion annually. If mental health services are added to this equation, at an additional rate of $3.77 per month per patient, the expenses total would be $1,388 billion.

The NPP official noted that the current health card budget, according to ASES’s figures is $3,310 million, yet the current assigned budget is $3,240 million.

"The reality is …the health card needs more than $1,380 million. Calderon has eliminated 132,000 medically indigent people and taken away their medical plans. This is how they were able to save a little money and stabilize the budget," Vega Borges said.

The delegation also affirmed that, had the elimination of 132,000 medically indigent not taken place, the deficit would have surpassed $200 million.

For his part, NPP Rep. Silva criticized the administration by saying that $40 million is not enough to balance the health budget. "The last great lie was that they would defray unbudgeted reform expenditures with $40 million from the Health Insurance Stabilization Fund".

He also added, that the fund is going to support money coming from the alcohol and tobacco excise taxes, "but as we all know this money will be used to cover the unbalanced general budget… it has no resources to provide for anyone, not even this projected deficit."

Federal Funds Assigned For Safety Improvements To San Juan Port

June 17, 2002
Copyright ©2002
ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved.

SAN JUAN (AP) – Resident Commissioner Anibal Acevedo Vila reported Monday that the U.S. Department of Transportation has granted Puerto Rico $3 million for improving security in the Port of San Juan

"Puerto Rico was one of 51 jurisdictions selected to distribute $92.3 million from among 850 applications received by the agency," said Acevedo Vila.

According to the commissioner, the disbursement is in response to the efforts of federal authorities to protect the United States and the rest of its jurisdictions from the threat of terrorism.

"The funds assigned were based on the need for improvements of this type according to recommendations made by the deputy secretary of U.S. Transportation charged with security, the Maritime Safety Administrator, and the Coast Guard Commander," said Acevedo Vila.

Acevedo Vila indicated that of the $92.3 million, $78 million would be used for operational safety and $5 million would be for research on security to detect deficiencies and to identify areas of improvement. The remaining $9.3 million would be used to finance specific projects that use new technology for tracking ships and for electronic arrival notification, among other applications.

He underscored that only 10 other ports received disbursements greater than $3 million which he argued reflects the importance of the Port of San Juan to interstate commerce.

PIP Considers Planning Board Change Blow To Environment

June 16, 2002
Copyright ©2002
ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved.

SAN JUAN (AP) – Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP) Sen. Fernando Martin said Friday that the replacement of Hermenegildo Ortiz and Felix Aponte as president and associate member of the Planning Board, respectively, is the "most severe blow that has been made to Puerto Rico environmental interests in more than 30 years."

Martin said this replacement represents an "abandonment" of Gov. Sila Calderon before "the voracity of the unscrupulous developers," since both officials represented "the best of the mentality of planning and conserving resources and protection" of the natural resources.

Calderon announced Friday the resignation of the two officials and the appointment of Angel David Rodriguez as the new Planning Board president, who was working as the director of the Permits and Regulations Administration (ARPE by its Spanish acronym).

"It is a true scandal that they have been dismissed for resisting pressure from the developers. The negative consequences for the environment and natural resources fall on the governor’s shoulders," the senator said in a telephone interview.

Although the governor denied that the change responded to this type of pressure, the PIP senator said the "recriminations" Calderon made to the officials for the opposition they continually showed to projects that were against best environmental interests were public knowledge.

Another Priest Accused

June 15, 2002
Copyright ©2002
The Orlando Sentinel. All rights reserved.

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- A man has accused a Roman Catholic priest of sexual misconduct, saying the priest abused him when he was 13, church officials said Friday. San Juan Archbishop Roberto Gonzalez Nieves said in a statement that the priest is on administrative leave. It was unclear how many years ago the alleged abuse occurred. Gonzalez Nieves said the church is not required to pass the case along to authorities at this stage because it involves allegations by an adult about events more than a decade ago.

Acevedo Vila Requests Equality For Health-Intended Funds

June 14, 2002
Copyright ©2002
WOW News. All rights reserved.

Resident Commissioner Anibal Acevedo Vila asked Congress to improve health and doctor-hospital services, which accept more than 500,000 elderly and disabled Medicare program participants in Puerto Rico, by incrementing the payment island hospitals receive for servicing this populace.

Acevedo Vila also asked that Puerto Rico be included in any legislation approved for the creation of a medical prescription plan for senior citizens.

In both letters, the resident commissioner informed Republican Congressman William Thomas, chairman of the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee, and Charles Rangel, ranking Democratic member of the referred commission, of the injustice suffered by hospitals in Puerto Rico and by the thousands of seniors who rely solely on Medicare for hospital and health services.

Acevedo Vila asked of both congressmen that Puerto Rico receive the same benefits and treatment received by those on the mainland.

"Puerto Rico is the only U.S. jurisdiction in which Medicare reimbursement of hospital services is based on a combined formula, thus creating inconsistencies and undermining the program’s objectives. In order to correct this inequity, I and other Congressional members presented House measure 1656 to increase payments received by hospitals under Medicare. It requests that this language be included in any legislation being considered in the House," read the correspondence.

According to data obtained by the Office of the Resident Commissioner, the proposal protects island hospitals enabling them to attain an increase of between $25 million and $50 million for improving services for the elderly under Medicare.

"There are 525,000 elderly and disabled persons in Puerto Rico that receive Medicare benefits. From this figure, 340,000, or 7 out of 10 recipients, have no pharmaceutical medication coverage," wrote Acevedo.

Calderon Announces Changes In Her Cabinet

June 14, 2002
Copyright ©2002
WOW NEWS. All rights reserved.

After weeks of speculations, Gov. Sila Calderon announced Friday the new designations of her cabinet members.

Among the appointments announced Friday, the nomination of Jorge Colberg Toro as new Public Affairs secretary stands out. The post was created by executive order and will be in charge of coordinating all the public affairs in La Fortaleza and the government agencies.

The new post will also supervise La Fortaleza’s Press Office, the Central Communications Office, and the Scheduling Office.

Colberg Toro, who is currently the Popular Democratic Party (PDP) general secretary, was appointed to the post at the PDP headquarters after working as an adviser to the governor in La Fortaleza.

Calderon also announced changes in several agencies including the appointment of Hector Jimenez Juarbe as new Pridco administrator and the current Tourism Co. Executive Director Milton Segarra as new deputy secretary of the Economic Development and Commerce Department.

Other government officials who submitted their resignations were Agriculture Secretary Fernando Toledo, Economic Development Bank President Maria Fuentes Pujols, Drug Control Office Director Osvaldo Rivera Cianchini, and Planning Board President Hermenegildo Ortiz.

Three Independent Audits Investigate Water Co. Actions

June 14, 2002
Copyright ©2002
ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved.

SAN JUAN (AP) – While the Water Co. is in the process of abandoning the operations of the Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Authority, two government agencies and an external auditing firm are investigating its performance during the past years in the face of possible irregularities.

The Infrastructure Financing Authority (IFA) and the Government Development Bank (GDB) and an external firm that will be contracted before the end of the month will do "the work that the comptroller should have done," GDB President Juan Agosto Alicea said.

According to published reports, the official complained that Commonwealth Comptroller Manuel Diaz Saldaña had issued eight reports on the Water Co.’s operational arm neglecting income and disbursements, which the Constitution requires.

Documents presented reveal that there were duplicated filings of purchase orders, conspiracy between bidding companies, and suspicious purchases.

According to Agosto Alicea, it is concerning that the comptroller approved the Water Co. contract in 1995 when he was president of the IFA board of directors. However, Diaz Saldaña asserted that he was investigating the alleged irregularities.

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