After a promising meeting with President Oscar Arias in January, the country’s 81 new mayors took office in early February expecting changes. Arias had promised the mayors more funding, communication and legal reforms to give local governments more power.
Some 73 mayors signed a letter in August backing the Central American-Free Trade Agreement with the United States (CAFTA), the approval of which was Arias’ priority during his first 17 months in office.
In the letter, the mayors listed a host of demands, including fiscal reform, an increase in minimum wages and greater government investment in education.
The Arias administration reciprocated in September, when Finance Minister Guillermo Zúñiga announced the 2008 budget. The budget gives municipal governments about $102 million – a 130% increase over 2007.
For the first time in years, Zúñiga said, local governments were set to receive all the money assigned to them in the 2007 budget. He pledged the same for 2008.
In November, more than 20 mayors and their representatives met with Arias to renew their request for fiscal reform. Arias said legislators couldn’t tackle that issue yet; they were too busy discussing the laws required to implement CAFTA.
The 81 mayors include 59 members of the government’s National Liberation Party (PLN) and 11 members of the Social Christian Unity Party (PUSC).