SAN JUAN – Newly-installed Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello said on Monday during his inaugural address that the island’s government does not have the funds to pay public employees in February.
Rossello, who was sworn into office a few minutes past midnight on Jan. 2 so that he could sign several executive orders early in the morning, said in his speech that the situation is so serious that the government simply does not have any liquidity.
“We’re inheriting a deficit of more than $6 billion and a situation so precarious that there is no way to pay the payroll for the month of February,” emphasized Rossello, the 37-year-old son of former Gov. Pedro Rossello, who headed the U.S. commonwealth from 1993-2000.
The new governor said that confronting the situation of the island’s $69 billion public debt is his top priority, and in direct connection with that he emphasized that he will do everything possible so that Puerto Rico ceases to be a U.S. commonwealth and becomes the 51st state.
He devoted a significant portion of his speech to lambasting the government of outgoing Gov. Alejandro Garcia Padilla for its economic management, which the new governor called terrible, the alleged poor use of public funds to pay operating expenses and the hiding of financial information.
Rossello warned that the transition between the two administrations had not been transparent and that alleged irregularities on the part of the outgoing government will be investigated.
“Today we begin the reconstruction of our homeland,” Rossello emphasized after saying that the generation he represents “will change the course of the history of Puerto Rico.”
Among the most immediate measures to deal with the critical situation facing the island, Rossello announced that early Monday morning he had signed a series of executive orders designed to immediately change the island’s course, including a decree for all government agencies to reduce their annual expenses and all outside contracts for services by 10 percent.
Another executive order decrees a state of emergency within the government that will enable Rossello to facilitate procedures to initiate strategic projects immediately.
Furthermore, he said that he will move with all possible speed to make bilingualism – Spanish and English – a reality among the island’s students, something that currently is restricted to private schools, although he did not specify how he would do that.
In the political realm, he emphasized that “the crisis is directly linked” to Puerto Rico’s status as a U.S. commonwealth, which for more than five decades has given a certain level of self-governance to the island but has left in Washington’s hands critical areas such as border security, defense and international relations.
Rossello also announced that on Monday he will travel to Washington to begin working on achieving greater integration with the United States for the island.