Puerto Rico Governor Wanda Vazquez gave a State of the Commonwealth address that included a proposed budget for fiscal year 2021. The spending plan calls for $169 million more than the budget proposed by the PROMESA Fiscal Oversight and Management Board (FOMB).
The government’s $10.2 billion budget combined with federal funds and special revenue funds amounts to more than $28.2 billion.
The spending covers the costs of essential services like education, healthcare, and public safety as well as disaster recovery. It also includes Christmas bonuses and pension payouts, which have been points of contention between the FOMB and the territory’s government in the past.
“Collaborating does not mean giving everything up,” Caribbean Business quoted Vazquez as saying during the speech. “With unknown intentions, the Board tried to advance yesterday details of the budget that it would present today. Know that, despite this, I reaffirm that I will defend the benefits of public employees that were not budgeted for or approved by them,”
More than 2,000 teachers, including 400 special education support professionals, will have permanent jobs.
Tuition increases for the University of Puerto Rico will be canceled, and an additional $55 million will be allocated to offset losses caused by COVID-19.
Graduating high school seniors who are enrolled in a college program will receive $1,000 toward a computer.
A government insurance plan, known as Plan Vital, will be expanded to provide for 200,000 uninsured residents of Puerto Rico.
Vazquez also plans a Special Commission to work to make sure that insurance payments are made promptly to help healthcare professionals.
Aníbal José Torres, the leader of the Popular Democratic Party, filed a complaint against the governor with the Election Commission. The State of the Commonwealth and Budget Message is normally held in the capitol building. This year it was held at a performing arts venue. The governor explained that the unusual location was necessary to allow social distancing.
However, leaders of the PDP boycotted the event.
Vazquez pointed out that a representative of the federal government, Rear Admiral Peter Brown, Trump’s Special Representative for Puerto Rico’s Disaster Recovery at the White House, attended the event. This was the first time that any federal representative has taken part in this event.
Vazquez expressed her belief that Admiral Brown’s presence showed an improvement in the relationship between the White House and Puerto Rico.