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Whose budget?


April 7, 2005
Copyright © 2005 CARIBBEAN BUSINESS. All Rights Reserved.

On Nov. 2, 2004, the New Progressive Party (NPP) won the elections in Puerto Rico. The NPP won 32 of the 51 seats in the House, short just two Representatives from having two thirds of the House; and the party also won 17 seats in the Senate, short only one seat from having two-thirds of the Senate. A two-thirds majority in both houses would have given NPP legislators the power to override any governor’s veto.

The NPP won 42 municipalities, a majority of the 78, including the two most populous cities, San Juan, the Capital City, and Bayamón. The NPP also won the municipality with the highest per capita income, Guaynabo.

But, most importantly, Dr. Pedro Rosselló, the NPP’s candidate for governor, also won the elections at the polls. However, his victory was taken away by a distortion and misinterpretation of the electoral law of Puerto Rico. Over 7,000 null and invalid votes, from voters who had marked three Xs on ballots with only two candidates, were validated. Nowhere in any democratic country, state, or territory have three votes on a ballot with only two candidates ever been considered as valid votes. Nevertheless, that is exactly what the courts did in our case.

We, therefore, now have a governor who actually lost the election by about 4,000 votes, declared as winner by 3,000 votes. Realizing that he is a usurper, he began saying he wanted a shared government with his opposition, the NPP legislators and mayors, who constitute a solid majority. However, all of his official acts have demonstrated that he is not willing to share his executive authority, but he definitely wants to share the opposition’s legislative authority.

He has shown his divisiveness in the appointment of his cabinet and other executive appointments, which require the advice and consent of the Senate. At no time has Acevedo consulted with the NPP leadership regarding these appointments. On the contrary, he has appointed only one NPP office, the Superintendent of Police. And he did that because he had very little political room to do otherwise. Pedro Toledo, the superintendent during Rosselló’s eight years as governor, did such a good job and is so highly regarded by a vast majority of the people of Puerto Rico, that the governor couldn’t find any viable candidate in his party ranks.

Outside that appointment, all others have been members of his Popular Party. Most of them are considered political activists. And not only has he refused to share or even discuss his appointment authority, but has also insisted on his appointments even after the NPP legislators have expressed their opposition to only a small handful of his appointees. If he were sincere in his vaunted "intention" to "share" his authority, he would have withdrawn those appointments, which are opposed by the NPP senators. But, on the contrary, he has started a campaign to try to force the Senate to confirm his appointees instead of trying to reach an agreement.

Now, when pursuant to Article IV Section 4 of the local Constitution, he has to "present to the Legislative Assembly… a message concerning the affairs of the Commonwealth and a report concerning the Senate and the Treasury of Puerto Rico and the proposed expenditures for the ensuing fiscal year," he presented a prepared budget, without any previous consultation with the NPP senators. Even in an area where the Legislature has almost absolute power to act, such as imposing taxes, excises, and duties, Acevedo Vilá, "The Usurper," acts on his own; and later on, he will try to appear as though he is willing to negotiate, after he has already publicly invaded and taken over the Legislature’s initiative.

The governor doesn’t have the constitutional authority to submit a budget or initiate bills to raise revenue. That authority belongs exclusively to the Legislature.

Our local (P.R.) Constitution, like our national (U.S.) Constitution, clearly establishes that the authority to authorize appropriations and determine how revenue will be raised belongs exclusively to the legislative branch and not to the executive. Our local Constitution, Article III, Section 17, regarding the powers of the Legislative Branch, reads as follows: "Every bill, except general appropriations bills, shall be confined to one subject, which shall be clearly expressed in its title… The general appropriation act shall contain only appropriations and rules for their disbursement…All bills for raising revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives, but the Senate may propose or concur with amendments as on other bills."

Not even the Senate can originate bills to raise revenue, that is, to tax individuals, businesses, properties, and activities. Only the House of Representatives can originate tax legislation. The most the governor can do is veto the bills enacted by the House and the Senate, or exercise his line-item veto power, which is limited to appropriation bills that contain more than one item. If the appropriation bill contains only one item, then the governor can’t exercise his line-item veto power. Article III, Section 20 of our local Constitution reads as follows: "In approving any appropriation bill that contains more than one item, the governor may eliminate one or more of such items or reduce their amounts, at the same time reducing the total amounts involved."

Acevedo, "The Usurper," instead of doing as he says he wants to do, such as share the governing powers of the executive and legislative branches, pre-empts the Legislature and, without any attempt to consult, submits his own budget and insists on amending our tax laws. He insists on enacting a Value Added Tax Bill instead of the Sales Tax supported by the New Progressive Party, Certified Public Accountants Association, small businesses, Chamber of Commerce, Manufacturers’ Association, and the vast majority of consumers. Is that a way to share government?

No. What Acevedo, "The Usurper," wants to do is control as much of the government decisions as possible by encroaching on the power and authority of the Legislature.

The preparation of the budget is the most important legislative responsibility of both the House and the Senate every year. The NPP candidates elected to the Legislature are a solid majority in both houses. It is their duty and their responsibility to prepare and draft the budget. It is the Legislature’s prerogative and responsibility to enact the tax bills for raising revenue; it is their responsibility to authorize the appropriations for the government of Puerto Rico to carry out the wishes of the people of Puerto Rico as proposed and enacted by the House and the Senate pursuant to the platform presented to the people of Puerto Rico by the New Progressive Party during the 2004 elections.

Yes, pursuant to our Republican form of government and pursuant to our local Constitution, the budget for the years 2005-2006, 2006-2007, 2007-2008, and 2008-2009 must be prepared, drafted, and enacted by the Legislature. It is incumbent on the governor to sign the budget, unless he finds something that is contrary to the New Progressive Party’s platform, or something that is fiscally, morally, or legally unacceptable. The governor’s duties and responsibilities are to execute and carry out the public policies, the services to the constituents, and to plan and build the facilities and public works program enacted by the Legislature.

If the majority members of the House and Senate allow Gov. Acevedo, "The Usurper," to impose his agenda against that supported and voted on by the majority, then those representatives and senators will have failed our people by failing to carry out their responsibilities. I am confident this Legislature will draft and enact a budget and enact the proposed sales tax as voted on by the people of Puerto Rico. It is the Legislature, not the governor, that must enact the budget.

Carlos Romero Barceló is a two-term former governor of Puerto Rico (1977-84), a two-term former resident commissioner (1993-2000), and a two-term former mayor of San Juan (1969-78). He was president of the New Progressive Party for 11 years.

This Caribbean Business article appears courtesy of Casiano Communications.
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