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AAV Vows To Eliminate 23k Jobs, Slash Spending, Legislature Won’t Approve His Budget… Rights Groups Call For Protest Against Death Penalty Trial… Calderon Referred To DOJ Over Vieques… Gas Use Largely Unaffected By UT… FEMA OK’s $14.6m For PREPA… House Status Bill Uses PIP Language… Ed. Dept. Has $330m Deficit

AAV Vows To Eliminate 23k Jobs, Slash Spending


March 17, 2005
Copyright © 2005 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) - Gov. Anibal Acevedo Vila unveiled proposals Wednesday to eliminate more than 23,000 government jobs and close several public agencies, vowing to pull Puerto Rico out of a cycle of budget deficits and debt.

Acevedo Vila presented a $9.7 billion budget to the local House and Senate, saying it represented an unprecedented $370 million reduction in spending.

Puerto Rico's overall budget is more than $25 billion, but that includes federal funds and earnings from public corporations which the local government does not control.

"We must reduce the size of the government, and we will accomplish that through different means," Acevedo Vila said.

The governor promised to eliminate 23,324 government jobs, though there were no plans for massive layoffs. Instead, he proposed retiring workers with more than 30 years of service and others through early retirement incentives. Other employees will not be rehired when their contracts expire, he said.

The government is the largest employer in the U.S. Caribbean territory of 4 million, with 250,000 workers, or a quarter of the work force. The government spends about $16 million a day on salaries, Acevedo Vila said.

Acevedo Vila took office Jan. 2, vowing to take aggressive steps toward plugging a $1 billion deficit and reducing a $37 billion public debt.

Leaders of the main opposition New Progressive Party reacted cautiously to his proposals.

"We must analize this carefully," said Senate President Kenneth McClintock. "We must ... evaluate the cuts so the people don't end up paying."

Puerto Rico is facing an uncertain economic future. It lost an economic powerhouse when the Roosevelt Roads naval base closed in March 2004, taking with it about 6,000 jobs and an estimated $300 million a year. The closure followed the U.S. Navy's withdrawal from its Vieques bombing range in May 2003 following three years of steady protests after an errant bomb killed an islander.

Some islanders have worried the withdrawal could threaten a relationship that has brought the territory $14 billion a year in federal funds and helped it become one of the most prosperous places in Latin America.

Acevedo Vila said the government would invest $500,000 this year in a project to turn Roosevelt Roads into a complex of technological industries, businesses, homes, ports and airports.

Acevedo Vila narrowly defeated pro-statehood candidate Pedro Rossello in November elections that left the island further divided over its relationship with the United States. Acevedo Vila supports keeping Puerto Rico's status as a U.S. commonwealth, though with a greater degree of autonomy.

He also promised to close or merge 18 government agencies and reduce the number of products that are exempt from a 6.6 percent import tax.

Legislature Won’t Approve Budget Proposed By Governor

March 17, 2005
Copyright © 2005 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) – The New Progressive majority will not approve the budget suggested on Wednesday evening by Gov. Anibal Acevedo Vila, because they feel it imposes too many taxes on Puerto Ricans.

The president of the NPP legislative conference and defeated candidate for governor, Sen. Pedro Rossello, said he will take the Budget Address into account simply as suggestions, and the final version will be different to what was proposed by the governor.

"The governor is not who establishes the budget, it is the Legislature," Rossello said during a press conference, where he was flanked by NPP lefislators, his assistants John Blakeman and Raymond Rivera and the party’s Secretary General, Thomas Rivera Schatz.

Rossello criticized the elimination of the tax exemptions of 6.6 percent for some imported products.

Rights Groups Call For Protest Against Death Penalty Trial

March 17, 2005
Copyright © 2005 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) - Human and legal rights groups urged Puerto Ricans to protest the death penalty and its possible application in the controversial trial of two men accused of killing a security guard in an armed robbery.

Puerto Rico banned capital punishment 75 years ago and in 2000 its Supreme Court ruled it violated the island’s constitution. But a year later, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston overturned the ruling, saying Puerto Rico is subject to federal law. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the decision.

The trial of Hernando Medina Villegas, 24, and Lorenzo Catalan Roman, 25, accused of killing a security guard during an armed robbery in March 2002, opened in San Juan, Puerto Rico on March 7.

Puerto Rico's bar association, its main human rights commission, Amnesty International, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the Caribbean Justice and Peace Project, as well as other groups, called on Puerto Ricans to unite against the penalty.

Comptroller Refers Calderon To Justice Dept. Over Vieques Issue

March 17, 2005
Copyright © 2005 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) – The Commonwealth Comptroller’s Office referred former governor Sila M. Calderon to the Justice Department and the Office of Governmental Ethics, because as mayor of San Juan, she allegedly paid some $98,614 to city lobbyists for them to work on the Navy’s exit from Vieques.

Comptroller Manuel Diaz Saldaña said the efforts to get the Navy to leave "did not proceed" because they contradicted public policy established in a January 2000 agreement between then-governor Pedro Rossello and former U.S. President Bill Clinton.

"The implementation of this public policy (regarding Vieques) … corresponds to Executive Power and its agencies and related instruments, and not to the City of San Juan," Diaz Saldaña said in media reports.

FEMA Approves More Than $14.6 Million For PREPA Projects

March 17, 2005
Copyright © 2005 Federal Information & News Dispatch, Inc. All rights reserved. 

Department of Homeland Security Documents

Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)

SAN JUAN, P.R. -- Officials from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) announced today the approval of $14,625,780 million to the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. The funds are being designated to four projects of the Puerto Rico Electric and Power Authority (PREPA) under FEMA's Public Assistance (PA) program for damages sustained as a result of Tropical Storm Jeanne.

President Bush issued a major disaster declaration on September 17, 2004 which made municipalities and other public agencies in Puerto Rico eligible to apply for disaster aid funds.

"FEMA continues working with State and municipal governments to search out projects where infrastructure related programs can be most useful, cost effective and have the greatest impact, such as these ones which prevent power outages during emergency situations," said Jose A. Bravo, DHS/ FEMA Caribbean Division Office Director.

PREPA has submitted to FEMA eighteen projects for the total of $17,749,016 million. The approved funds will be used to reimburse the agency for expenses incurred in emergency protection measures, debris removal, restoration of the 230 KV, 115 KV and 38 KV transmission lines, 13.2 KV, 8.32 KV and low voltage distribution lines with its components, and the restoration of a power generator.

The PA program provides assistance to eligible State agencies, municipal governments and qualified private non-profit organizations for disaster-related approved costs of debris removal, emergency services, and repairing or replacing damaged public facilities, road repairs, bridges, repair of water control facilities and restoration of buildings, utilities, and recreational facilities.

As of today, FEMA has received projects from 113 eligible applicants, of which the total federal share obligated to the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico is $23,666,779 million under the PA program.

FEMA, Commonwealth and municipal teams continue inspecting all disaster-related damages, examining expenses identified by the applicants, and outlining the scope of repair work needed and the estimated restoration cost.

FEMA has approved more than $403.0 million to 156,551 individuals and families under the Individual and Household Program in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Jeanne.

Urban Train Will Not Cause Large Drop In Gasoline Consumption


March 17, 2005
Copyright © 2005 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

PONCE (AP) – When the Urban Train begins regular operations, the drop in the consumption of gasoline will not be very significant, economist Fernando Zalacain, said, who is a gasoline consultant for the Department of Consumer Affairs.

Zalacain said the cut in the number of daily automobile trips due to the Urban Train, which will only travel to some parts of the metro area, will be small in comparison to the total number of car trips throughout the island.

"The impact is going to be marginal, not very significant, because the number of trips saved with the train in comparison to the number of trips made in the island in one day is relatively small," Zalacain said in media reports.

Nevertheless, he said the train could contribute to a lessening in the pollution produced by vehicle traffic emissions.

House Presents New Status Bill That Uses PIP Language

March 16, 2005
Copyright © 2005 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) March 16, 2005 – The House of Representatives on Tuesday presented a substitute status bill that adopts the language proposed by the Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP) so that voters can express their choice for the future political relationship between the United States and Puerto Rico.

The measure authorizes a referendum for July 10 where voters can decide yes or no on the option to demand that the President and U.S. Congress, before Dec. 31, 2006, "express their commitment to respond to the claim of the Puerto Rican people to resolve the problem of political status."

The bill was presented at a press conference by House President Jose Aponte of the New Progressive Party, Popular representatives Hector Ferrer and Carlos Vizcarrondo, the PIP’s Víctor García San Inocencio, and former ‘independentista’ senator Fernando Martin.

"This shows that, when there is the will, it can work for the good of the Puerto Rican people," Aponte said.

Eduation Department Has $330 Million Deficit

March 16, 2005
Copyright © 2005 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) March 16, 2005 – The designated director of the Office of Management and Budget, Ileana Fas Pacheco, said $330 million of the $443 million deficit the government is faced with for the present fiscal year, is related to the Education Department.

The agency recently recorded the highest deficit in its history, with a number that doubles the projections of between $50 million and $150 million left by the administration of former secretary Cesar Rey.

Fas said the $330 million deficit is mainly due to the payroll for the 72,000 permanent employees and 5,000 temporary employees, and other related expenses, such as benefits acquired in their collective bargaining agreements.

According to media reports, the government will have to again resort to non-recurring transactions to be able to cover the Education budget, which is not expected to be able to recuperate from its fiscal crisis with just the cuts by the new agency administration.

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