Stephen Dinan, Washington Times, December 3, 2017
Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello Nevares last month asked federal taxpayers to shell out $94 billion to pay for the territory’s recovery from Hurricane Maria — then turned around and paid out about $100 million in Christmas bonuses to island government employees.
The governor’s aides say the bonuses are a longstanding tradition and part of the law, and were planned for in the budget approved last summer.
But that budget came well before Hurricanes Irma and Maria slammed into Puerto Rico, leaving much of the territory in ruin and leaving the government begging for federal assistance.
The island’s financial oversight board, created by Congress as part of a deal to bail the government out of a potential debt default last year, called the payments “imprudent” and said the hurricanes should have forced the governor to rethink his decisions.
“Puerto Rico has demonstrated time and time again that its government is incapable of responsibly handling its finances. This is yet another such instance,” Rep. Tom McClintock, who sits on the House committee with oversight over Puerto Rico, told The Washington Times in a statement after the bonuses were revealed.
The bonuses, which analysts said are not uncommon in Latin America, date back to the 1970s in Puerto Rico. But they’ve been controversial in recent years as the island has struggled with debt. The payments in 2015, of about $120 million, sparked a fierce debate.
This year the payments will total $113 million, the government told Bloomberg News. Some 250,000 people get bonuses, with current workers averaging $600 bonus and retirees getting about $200, Bloomberg reported.
The office of Jenniffer Gonzalez-Colon, Puerto Rico’s nonvoting member of Congress, didn’t respond to five emails or phone calls seeking comment since Thursday.