The Puerto Rico Symphony Orchestra faces great challenges and difficult times. The fiscal collapse of the government, the stagnation of the economy, the public debt, the loss of the population, and the actuarial deficit of the retirement systems, threaten the stability of the social environment of Puerto Rico. The high cost of energy, the loss of benefits, and the rise in taxes gradually make the quality of life of the inhabitants difficult.
In 2016, the Congress of the United States passed the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act (PROMESA), which created a Fiscal Control Board with the purpose of addressing the fiscal crisis of Puerto Rico. In 2017, the government of Puerto Rico filed for bankruptcy under PROMESA to restructure its uncontrollable debt. This move has created great uncertainty among the working class of the country, especially public service employees. It is anticipated that the benefits associated with retirement systems will see substantial cuts.
As if it were not enough in 2017, the island was devastated by the passage of hurricanes Irma and Maria. The recovery has been slow. Puerto Ricans have faced the process with great courage and determination. In the case of the Puerto Rico Symphony Orchestra, its members took the task of bringing a few moments of joy to the different towns and communities that suffered great damage. The members of the orchestra will be eternally grateful for the emotional and financial support received from ICSOM.
Perhaps the main challenge of the orchestra is the actuarial deficit of the pension system. For years the government has not fulfilled its employer contribution. Now with the bankruptcy process no progress is foreseen in this matter. The orchestra has taken initiatives, such as recordings and special concerts, to raise additional funds. Unfortunately, the scourge of hurricane Maria has disrupted these efforts. The orchestra will continue its efforts to raise additional funds even though it has not received support from the administration.
The Puerto Rico Symphony Orchestra operates under the concept of a public corporation. To that end, a substantial part of the funds come from the government’s coffers. In its Fiscal Plan submitted to the Control Board, substantial cuts are proposed to the budget of the orchestra. If these cutbacks materialize, the salaries and benefits of the musicians will be reduced, the time and quality of the season would be affected, and it would be a deadly blow to the orchestra as we know it. The members of the orchestra will put up a fight by gathering support from the community, lobbying with the government and the legislature, and taking our claims to various forums.
The Puerto Rico Symphony Orchestra was originally created over 50 years ago by the Puerto Rico Industrial Development Company as a tool for economic and social development. Today, more than ever, Puerto Rico needs the assets of the orchestra. Economic growth and social development are keys to take the island out of the abyss in which it finds itself. The members of the orchestra are ready to be part of the solution.
Note: the author is a violinist in the Orquesta Sinfónica de Puerto Rico and the OSPR’s ICSOM delegate.