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AAV Vows To Veto Budget Approved By Lower House… Puerto Ricans Expected To Lose Key Link To Home

AAV Vows To Veto Budget Approved By Lower House


24 June 2005
Copyright © 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) - Gov. Anibal Acevedo Vila lambasted a budget approved by the lower House of Representatives on Friday, vowing to veto it if the Senate approves it.

The house approved a US$9.2 billion budget, shaving US$473 million from the budget that the governor submitted three months ago. The house refused to approve new taxes on several products, arguing they would hurt middle and lower-class families. The opposition pro-statehood New Progressive party controls both the Senate and the lower house.

Acevedo Vila urged the Senate to toss the budget "in the garbage," saying it would not even cover the government's operational costs.

"What they approved does not even work as a draft," Acevedo Vila told a news conference. "I would invite the Senate to toss it in the garbage and approve a totally different legislation."

Asked if he would veto the budget, the governor said, "of that, I haven't the slightest doubt."

The house approved the budget 30-13 -- voting along party lines -- on Friday morning following a 22-hour debate that lasted overnight.

Lawmakers from Acevedo Vila's Popular Democratic party accused their opponents of passing an alternative budget hastily and refusing to approve the governor's proposals for purely political reasons.

Puerto Rican politics are fiercely divided over the island's relationship with the United States. The Popular Democrats support keeping the island's status as U.S. commonwealth. Divisions have deepened since the extremely close November elections, which Acevedo Vila won following a bitter vote recount and several unsuccessful court challenges by New Progressive rival Pedro Rossello.

Acevedo Vila had touted his budget proposal as the most fiscally responsible in years, saying it would help plug a US$1 billion deficit and reduce a US$37 billion debt. The proposal included eliminating 23,000 government jobs and closing several public agencies.

But he said the budget approved Friday would leave the education, health and police departments severely underfunded.

[The governor urged the Legislature to forget the past electoral campaign or the general elections of 2008, and focus on making the right decisions for the people.

"This isn’t against Anibal Acevedo Vila, it is against the people of Puerto Rico," the governor said.]

House President Jose Aponte defended the budget, noting that all three of those institutions received more funding than in last year's budget.

"We are not obligated to approve the budget submitted by the executive," Aponte said.

Puerto Ricans Expected To Lose Key Link To Home

By April Hunt | Sentinel Staff Writer

29 June 2005
Copyright © 2005 ORLANDO SENTINEL. All rights reserved.

The office that quietly helps Puerto Ricans from the island settle in Central Florida could close as early as Friday.

A budget crunch forced the Puerto Rican Legislature to put the Federal Affairs Administration office in Orlando and 11 other cities on the chopping block. Only a veto by Gov. Aníbal Acevedo Vilá could save the offices, since that action would force the Commonwealth to revert to the budget of the current fiscal year, which ends Thursday.

"We don't know if the sky is falling yet or not," said Eduardo Bathia, the office's national director who was in Puerto Rico on Tuesday, lobbying to restore funding. "Friday we will wake up to a new budget and find out."

Puerto Ricans make up the majority of the seven-county region's 460,000 Hispanic residents. If the office shuts its doors on the ninth floor of Orlando City Hall, it would mean turning away 60-100 people who show up for help every month, said Orlando office Director Sylvia Cáceres.

In addition to offering help in finding housing, jobs and support, the office also provides a stateside link to island culture and traditions and is a source of pride to many residents, Cáceres added.

"There are a lot of Puerto Ricans moving to this area, and we facilitate and work with them on anything they might encounter," she said. "It would be a loss of a community center, to close."

Former island Gov. Pedro Rosselló created the office in 1995 and made frequent stops in the area to touch base with supporters of his pro-statehood views. Although the island's legislature is also pro-statehood, the current governor supports remaining a commonwealth, lending a political tinge to the latest budget wrangling.

But the local office itself has a political history. Former director Luis R. Pastrana resigned in 2003 after running the office for two years, saying its goals were too passive. Pastrana preferred more outreach into the community and believes without it, there is no need for the office.

"If it stays open, go out and knock on doors. It has to be more active," said Pastrana, an Orlando attorney. "If the office is going to remain passive, then heck, close it."

Nationwide and locally, the offices have had success in encouraging economic development between the island and statewide. They also have worked diligently in the past two years to register new arrivals to vote, said national spokeswoman Ana Carrión. The result was 330,000 new voters and 24 newly elected Puerto Rican officials.

The voter-registration campaign would end if the budget remains sliced from its current $10.2 million to the proposed $3 million, she added.

"It's a political battle unfortunately, because these offices do help communities," she said.

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