Furloughs approved for 1st time in Puerto Rico’s history

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — A federal control board overseeing Puerto Rico’s crisis-wracked finances announced Friday that it will impose furloughs for the first time in the U.S. territory’s history.

Furloughs of up to two days a month will start Sept. 1 and apply to all government employees except police, said Natalie Jaresko, the board’s executive director. She said these will continue until the end of fiscal year 2018.

The furloughs are needed because the administration of Gov. Ricardo Rossello has not achieved $218 million in savings as part of an overall $880 million in savings required by the board, Jaresko said.

“Where we are today is still very concerning,” she said.

The meeting turned contentious after the announcement, with Puerto Rico officials rejecting the board’s decision.

“There will be no furloughs. You can take that to the bank,” said Christian Sobrino, the Puerto Rico governor’s representative to the board, as he sat on stage next to board members during the public meeting.

Gov. Ricardo Rossello echoed that message hours later during a brief public address on Friday afternoon. He said he would be letting U.S. President Donald Trump and U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan know that his administration will not adhere to the board’s decision.

“Those cuts would have a devastating effect on our economy that would not only affect the quality of life of more than 130,000 families, but … practically all commercial activity in Puerto Rico,” he said.

Rossello has said the furloughs would have a $600 million negative economic impact in the next two years. He also said he would go to court if needed and said the board did not have the power to act unilaterally.

Board chairman Jose Carrion warned that going to court could lead to deeper furloughs if implementation is delayed.

“We do not consider this a recommendation as the government alleges,” he said.

Jaresko said the furloughs are not permanent and that Puerto Rico’s government has the power to end them earlier than forecast if it meets a couple of conditions, including the required $218 million in savings.

The board had originally proposed furloughs of two days a month for teachers and four days a month for other government workers as a way to cut government spending by up to $40 million a month. In addition, the board is expected to vote in upcoming weeks on whether to eliminate all Christmas bonuses.

More than a dozen of Puerto Rico’s 78 municipalities already have implemented their own furloughs in recent…

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