Rare bipartisanship in pay hike flap
Lawmakers from both the New Progressive Party and Popular Democratic Party are calling for the automatic pay hikes to be shelved. Leaders in both the Senate and House have pledged to block the raises, for now.
The raise is set to occur at the start of the new term in 2013 because legislators took no action to extend a 2008 law that froze their salaries for four years. Their base pay will jump from $74,000 to $81,000 in January, and their daily food stipend also will increase.
The raise has angered many on the island.
Among state-level lawmakers, only those in California and New York earn more than Puerto Rico’s.
The Aug. 19 referendum calls for reducing the number of Senate and House seats by 2017, a move the government say would save millions of dollars.
The public outcry sparked by the pay hike issues quickly turned into a campaign issue, with gubernatorial candidates all taking positions against the raises.
Gov. Luis Fortuño, who is seeking a second term on the NPP ticket, left the door open to convening a special session so legislation to block the pay hike could be passed.
PDP candidate Alejandro García Padilla, who is capping his first term as a senator, called for lawmaker pay to be completely overhauled by pegging into the per capita income in Puerto Rico.
Puerto Rican Independence Party candidate Juan Dalmau proposed the creation of independent accounting board to seek ways to cut legislative costs without reducing the size of the legislature, which his party opposes.
In the upcoming referendum, voters will be consulted on a proposed amendment to reduce the number of House seats from 51 to 39 (33 district seats and six at-large), and for Senate seats to be pared from 27 to 17 (11 districts and six at-large), in 2017. It reduces the number of House district seats but increases the number of Senate district seats from eight to 11.
The changes would mean legislative candidates would need nearly 300,000 votes to win a seat, making it difficult for small parties such as the PIP to get into the Legislature, critics say.