Acevedo Vilá’s First 100 days

by John Marino

April 8, 2005
Copyright © 2005 THE PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.

. It's been a rough first 100 days in office for Aníbal Acevedo Vilá, the Popular Democratic Party governor who must work with a Legislature controlled by the New Progressive Party.

Such a split is rare in Puerto Rican politics, but not unprecedented. Acevedo Vilá's troubles, however, are not confined to the Capitol. He also must deal with a resident commissioner who is from the NPP, and a majority of island mayors who hail from the statehood party. Never before in modern Puerto Rico history has the government been so markedly divided between the two major parties.

The historic division of local government between the two parties is a big part of the reason why the first 100 days of the Acevedo Vilá administration, which end April 12, have been so bumpy. And there's every indication that the rough ride will get even wilder as the four-year term continues.

Just three of Acevedo Vilá's Cabinet members have been confirmed so far, and NPP officials are threatening to reject several of his nominees, including Justice Secretary-designate Roberto Sánchez Ramos and Education Secretary-designate Gloria Baquero. Last month, Senate President Kenneth McClintock warned the governor in a letter that six of his nominees did not have the necessary votes for confirmation.

If the trend during the first 100 days continues, major commonwealth government agencies could be in serious limbo by the time an acceptable chief is selected by the governor who is able to pass muster with the Senate.

Acevedo Vilá's legislative initiatives have also yet to bear fruit, and in some cases, have been completely rewritten by the NPP majority in the House and Senate.

His first major initiative, a package of crime fighting measures, is still working its way through hearings, but NPP and Puerto Rican Independence Party lawmakers have questioned key aspects of the plan.

One of these measures creates an $11 million fund, from commonwealth and federal sources, to purchase and set up vide surveillance cameras in public areas with high incidents of crime. Another measure would establish a curfew between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. for minors 15 years old or younger. A less publicized measure, granting municipal guards the authority to investigate violent crimes and to make arrests, would probably have a bigger impact on fighting crime, and stands the greatest chance of passage.

In his first month in office, Acevedo Vilá also released a plan to establish five "tax free zones" at undisclosed locations throughout the island. Residents living in these zones would enjoy exemption from income taxes on income up to $90,000 for married couples and $45,000 for individual filers.

While the governor proposed the measure to spur economic development in these undisclosed areas, NPP lawmakers derided the plan as "full of holes," especially given the commonwealth government's troubled fiscal state, and made clear the plan would not be approved without taking into account a larger view of government tax incentives. The legislation shows little promise of being enacted into law.

Meanwhile, another major initiative, Gov. Acevedo Vilá's status proposal has been completely changed by the Legislature. His original plan called for a vote in which islanders would decide to petition Congress to define status options in a federally backed vote, or elect a constituent assembly in San Juan to formulate status policy and then attempt to get Washington approval.

The NPP's counterproposal called for a referendum this summer in which Puerto Ricans would vote on whether or not to call on the president and Congress to spell out the viable decolonization options for Puerto Rico. The petition says the definitions would be used in a Congressionally binding plebiscite containing non-colonial and non-territorial status options. ?

A PIP compromise has basically been taken up and passed by the Legislature; the legislation sits on Acevedo Vilá's desk, awaiting his approval or veto. It takes up the NPP plan, and maps out a Plan B should Congress or the White House fail to act, which is basically the PDP proposal -- calling for a referendum to choose a mechanism -- constituent assembly or plebiscite -- to resolve status.

The governor's other legislative initiative, a proposed budget for fiscal year 2006, promises to be at least as marked up. Administration officials are already warning about the dire consequences of not passing a new budget by the time this fiscal year ends on June 30. NPP leaders, specifically party president and senator Pedro Rosselló, have responded that the budget will be passed by then, but it will be an NPP budget.

What the final makeup of that budget will be is still to be determined. But NPP leaders are promising to keep public spending to current levels, rather than the 3.3 percent budget increase proposed by Acevedo Vilá. And they say his plan to lift tax exemptions on such products as food, medicine and publications won't stand.

In fact, what the final budget looks like on June 30 will give the clearest indication of which party's priorities have the upper hand in the current political environment, and who indeed is truly in charge in this historic era of divided government.

John Marino, Managing 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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