While 100,000 public sector workers went back to work in Puerto Rico May 15 and 500,000 pupils returned to finish the last two weeks of school, Puerto Ricans have lost faith in the colonialist politicians, polls show.

A series of polls commissioned by the daily El Nuevo Día show the people of this U.S. colony blame both the governor and the legislative majority for the recent budget crisis.

The administration of Gov. Aníbal Acevedo Vilá closed 43 governmental departments and agencies and limited operations of several other agencies, putting 95,000 workers out of work, due to a budget shortfall of almost $740 million. The government shutdown in San Juan had a ripple effect on municipalities, with 15 closing completely or partially, putting thousands more in the streets.

The crisis affected the private sector as many workers cut back spending to the bare necessities. In a Puerto Rican Chamber of Commerce survey, 64 percent of businesses reported a drop in sales. Hotels reported that 20 percent of their reservations were cancelled. The loss to the private sector was estimated at over $308 million, with a $405 million drop in the GNP. Other economists estimated a sales drop of $325 million — 50 percent below normal.

A special commission announced a plan, May 10, calling for borrowing $741 million from Puerto Rico’s Governmental Bank of Development for operations through the end of the fiscal year in June. A 1 percent sales tax would repay the loan. That would be part of a larger sales tax of 4 percent to 7 percent. The Legislative Assembly, controlled by the annexationist New Progressive Party (PNP), and the Acevedo administration were still wrangling over the amount of the sales tax at press time. Acevedo belongs to the autonomist Popular Democratic Party (PPD).

Many in the labor movement are calling for a long-term plan and wondering what will happen during the next fiscal year.

While the polls showed Puerto Ricans blaming both the executive and legislative branches for the crisis, the PNP in the Legislature was seen as more responsible. Another “report card” poll gave both PPD and PNP politicians a low grade.

Two-thirds of those polled opposed any sales tax, even if it meant a lower income tax, saying it would have an adverse effect on families. Seventy-four percent opposed reducing governmental services.

Rubén Berríos, former senator and chairman of the Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP), called on the government and Legislature to “give in to the will of the majority” and pass comprehensive tax reform. The PIP has introduced bills “directed at the big corporations which today enjoy tax privileges,” he noted. “The big foreign corporations in our country took out of our land last year more than $30.5 billion in profits, and within the last 30 years they have taken $400 billion. This is nine to ten times the net amount of all federal aid in the same period.”

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