The Puerto Rican Fiscal Oversight Board (FOB) gathered in the Alexander Hamilton Building in New York City to amend and approve the government’s fiscal plan on March 13. The goal of the fiscal plan is to create long-term economic reforms that will allow the island to reduce its $7.6 billion debt load, The New Day reports.
Congress convened the FOB on June 30, 2016 to reign-in Puerto Rico’s fiscal issues. Then-President Barack Obama appointed the seven members two months later—four of them proposed by Congressional Republicans and three by Democrats. The law establishing the FOB, also known as the PROMESA Act, states that all forthcoming budgets must be reviewed and approved by the FOB until the government of Puerto Rico can achieve four consecutive balanced budgets and long-term, stable access to financial markets, says NBC News.
The fiscal plan mainly consists of ideas presented by Governor Ricardo Rosselló on February 28. Nevertheless, reports The New Day, the FOB added some key amendments.
One of the most prominent changes includes a progressive ten percent reduction in retirement pension benefits by fiscal year 2020. The FOB also conditioned a Christmas bonus elimination and work reduction program on the budget proposal for FY2018 that is due by April 30, 2017. These two conditions, however, depend on whether the government can create a reasonable implementation system for the fiscal plan that will generate an additional $200 million.
“Today we show that we have surpassed times of incoherence and improvisation in order to enter times of working as a team, and to have results for the good of Puerto Rico. [We have] a fiscal and socio-economic development plan that meets the goal of reducing spending, but most importantly, that allows us to build a better society,” Rosselló said in an address to the island’s citizens,
Many citizens, however, do not share the governor’s optimism. Opponents have stated that the fiscal plan’s austerity measures threaten the working class, students, and the elderly. A measure that has created special concern is the $450 million budget-cut on the University of Puerto Rico, the only public source of higher education on the island.
Ten different civic groups were present outside the Alexander Hamilton Building on the day of the FOB meeting to protest. The groups issued a statement, arguing that the FOB is only highlighting the island’s “colonial economic model that has led to excessive indebtedness and an economic crisis where the worst clash is suffered by the working class.”
The mere existence of the FOB symbolizes something bigger than a solution to the debt crisis. By controlling the budget, the FOB has become both the legislative and executive branches of the Puerto Rican government. No matter what the results are, Puerto Ricans are being governed by seven people whom they did not elect, thus further highlighting the seemingly endless debate over the island’s colonial status.