A series of letters sent back and forth over the past few weeks highlights the tension growing among Puerto Rico’s elected leaders, the PROMESA oversight board (FOMB), and leaders in Washington.
The FOMB was scheduled to approve Governor Rossello’s fiscal plan on March 30th of this year, but still has not done so. It is currently expected to approve the plan this week.
However, things have not been smooth since the governor’s plan was rejected by the board.
Rob Bishop (R-UT), chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources, wrote to the board almost immediately after the March 30th deadline passed with no approved fiscal plan.
“I remain frustrated with the oversight board’s inability and unwillingness to reach consensual restructuring agreements with the holders of Puerto Rico’s debt,” wrote Bishop. “With such power governing the development of the fiscal plans, it is imperative you adhere to the tenets and Congressional mandate of Promesa, while providing an avenue for Puerto Ricans to recover from the storms.”
“Any certified fiscal plan should reflect the oversight board as the sole representative of debtors,” Bishop continued. “And any attempt by the commonwealth to circumvent this uniformity of representation should be met with appropriate budget reductions.”
This get-tough message didn’t sit well with Governor Rossello. Describing Bishop’s letter as “disturbing,” he responded with a letter of his own. In it he said that Bishop had shown “complete disregard for Puerto Rico’s constitution, its laws and the will of the 3.4 million American citizens who live there.” He said that the letter “embodies everything that is wrong with this process and only serves to reinforce the dismissive and second-class colonial treatment Puerto Rico has suffered throughout its history as a territory of the United States.”
“Despite your apparent desire to turn back the clock many decades to a time when the federal government simply imposed its will upon our Island and appointed its officials, the autonomy of the people of Puerto Rico and their duly elected Government must be respected, as Congress recognized in crafting PROMESA,” the governor’s letter continues. “I cannot and will not permit you to elevate concerns of bondholders on the mainland above concern for the well-being of my constituents. Your letter purports to brush the Government of Puerto Rico to the side in the name of economic exigency, but I am confident that you would not have so rankly disregarded the prerogatives afforded the elected Government of any of the 50 states.”
The board sent several letters to Gov. Rossello, demanding greater austerity measures. Rossello wrote back, refusing to make cuts in pensions and accusing the board of trying to usurp the power of his government.
This followed a testy exchange with the Treasury Department, with letters from both the governor and the board leading to a letter from Democratic lawmakers demanding action on disaster recovery funds.
These are not the only letters in play. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees wrote a letter to the board objecting to the governor’s plan to send some inmates to prisons in the states. Referencing a “blistering letter” from Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D-NY), they asked the board to reject the plan.
The National Legal and Policy Center wrote to Attorney General Jeff Sessions asking that board member Ana Matosantos be removed from the board on the grounds that her family’s corporation has financial interests in PREPA, Puerto Rico’s electric utility. The NLPC is a nonprofit organization located in Virginia, with a focus on the federal government.