SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- The federal control board that oversees the finances of Puerto Rico’s government approved a $12.4 billion general fund budget Thursday for the U.S. territory after legislators failed to approve one amid intense bickering.
The board’s version of the budget was rejected last month by Gov. Pedro Pierluisi because it reduced government spending by $100 million. He said at the time that legislators would submit their own version, but the presidents of the island’s Senate and House of Representatives clashed and failed to approve anything before the July 1 deadline.
“It’s unfortunate that the legislative process tied to the central government's budget was very controversial and took too long,” Pierluisi said in a statement.
He said lawmakers wasted an opportunity to include things that would be beneficial for Puerto Ricans, noting that while the board included some public policies he had insisted on, “certainly other important ones are missing.”
The island's House of Representatives was scheduled to meet Thursday evening to try and approve another version of the budget, but the board already certified its version.
The overall $28 billion budget included the $12.4 billion general fund for day to day expenses as well as federal funding and money from a fund for specific uses. The overall budget includes $5.5 billion for public health, $4.6 billion for education and $1.3 billion “to protect future government pensions from economic uncertainty,” as well as $3.1 billion for families and children, $2.6 billion for pension payments and $1.1 billion for debt related obligations.
The budget comes as Puerto Rico’s government emerges from the biggest U.S. municipal bankruptcy in history after declaring in 2015 that it could not pay its more than $70 billion public debt, which accumulated through decades of mismanagement, corruption and excessive borrowing. It also had more than $50 billion in public pension liabilities.
Puerto Rico’s government filed for bankruptcy in 2017, a year after Congress created the financial oversight and management board for the territory.
Board chairman David Skeel said the certified budget sets aside more than $700 million in capital expenditures, including more than $170 million for housing and more than $150 million in public works to help revitalize the island’s economy.
“After years of deficits that resulted in inadequate funding for critical services, Puerto Rico is now able to provide significant investments to improve the quality of life for Puerto Rico residents and businesses,” he said.
The island is still trying to recover from deadly hurricanes and earthquakes in recent years as well as a lengthy economic crisis that deepened amid the pandemic.