SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – Puerto Ricans anxiously awaited recommendations Wednesday from a special commission meant to end a budget impasse that has thrown more than 100,000 public employees out of work, crippled government services and hurt business in this U.S. territory.
The consensus commission must recommend a solution to Puerto Rico's budget shortfall, which forced the governor to temporarily shutter 43 government agencies and nearly 1,600 public schools. The shutdown was in its 10th day on Wednesday.
The commission held a "very fruitful" 12 hours of talks on Tuesday, said a member, former Supreme Court Judge Antonio Negron Garcia.
The governor and the opposition-dominated legislature have agreed to follow the commission's recommendation, but opposition leader Pedro Rossello later signaled he wasn't obliged to do so.
The commission is composed of a former head of the island's Office of Management and Budget, a retired Puerto Rican Supreme Court judge, an economist and a one-time economic adviser to the legislature. It was created after Gov. Anibal Acevedo Vila and the legislature failed to resolve the $740 million budget gap that led to the government running out of cash two months before the end of the fiscal year.
Puerto Rico's financial straits pushed New York-based Moody's Investors Service to cut the rating of the territory's general obligation bonds on Monday to one notch above junk status, affecting about $25 billion of government debt.
Before the partial shutdown, Moody's and Standard & Poor's — another major credit rating agency — had warned that the government had to collect more money and reduce expenses to make its bonds more attractive to investors.
Acevedo has proposed imposing the island's first-ever sales tax — at 7 percent — to close the budget gap, which the House has rejected.
Union leaders have planned a large march to the popular tourist district of Old San Juan on Thursday to protest the partial government shutdown.