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SeC 04-27-2006 02:47 PM

Puerto Rico heads toward government shutdown
 
Puerto Rico heads toward government shutdown

By MIRANDA LEITSINGER
Associated Press

SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO - Nearly 1,600 schools shuttered. Some 205,000 public workers unpaid. Most government offices closed.

The U.S. Caribbean territory is staggering under a nearly $740 million budget shortfall and heading toward a grim scenario Monday, when it will run out of cash to pay salaries and provide public services if local lawmakers don't approve a bailout plan.


Talk of the possible shutdown dominated the island Wednesday.

Puerto Ricans jammed gas stations and supermarkets amid rumors that truck drivers would go on strike to force the government to resolve the crisis. Callers flooded talk shows, expressing anxiety.

Union leaders and government workers lashed out at politicians.

A doctors' group said the government may not be able to provide adequate medical care for the 1.6 million people with public health insurance. The doctors said 1 million prescriptions filled each month were also at risk. Police will stay on duty and hospitals will remain open.

Gov. Anibal Acevedo Vila promised to maintain limited, essential health coverage, but urged Puerto Rico's 3.9 million residents to pressure their lawmakers to approve his plan to take out a $638 million loan backed by a 7 percent sales tax.

The money would carry Puerto Rico through June 30, the end of this fiscal year.

Puerto Rico's House of Representatives wants to impose a 4 percent sales tax instead. The island now has no sales tax.

Protests were planned today.

http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/nation/3823206.html


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