Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Puerto Rico’s Territory Status is the Primary Cause of its Economic Problems - Congressman Pedro R. Pierluisi | Governor: I inherited a PR in pieces

Congressman Pedro R. Pierluisi
Five-Minute Floor Statement as Prepared for Delivery
Puerto Rico’s Territory Status is the Primary Cause of its Economic Problems
December 4, 2013

Mr. Speaker:

Over the last several months, the press has been filled with stories about the severe economic
problems in the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico. These economic problems have aggravated social
problems like crime, have generated anxiety for individuals and institutions that have invested in
Puerto Rico’s bonds, and have caused island residents to relocate to the 50 states in unprecedented
numbers. The statistics are staggering: in recent years, Puerto Rico’s population has fallen by
more than four percent, while the number of Puerto Ricans living in the states has increased by
over 45 percent.

As Puerto Rico’s representative in Congress, it pains me to read media accounts of the island’s
troubles, especially because I know that my constituents are just as capable and industrious as
their fellow citizens in any other U.S. jurisdiction. Puerto Rico has enormous potential, but the
reality is that this potential is not being fulfilled.

Although the island’s problems have certainly grown worse in recent months, it is critical for
policymakers and the American public to understand that these problems are not of recent vintage. 2

To the contrary, for at least four decades, Puerto Rico’s economic performance—and, by
extension, quality of life on the island—has been far worse than any state according to every
indicator, including unemployment, average household income, and the ratio of government debt
to economic production. In other words, Puerto Rico’s difficulties have endured in more or less
the same form, regardless of who holds power in Washington and San Juan and irrespective of the
public policies they formulate. To be sure, fiscal mismanagement at the local level and
insufficient attention at the federal level have both been factors contributing to Puerto Rico’s
problems, but the record clearly establishes that they are not the main factor.

What, then, is the principal source of Puerto Rico’s longstanding woes? In a recent editorial, the
Washington Post correctly identified the culprit, noting that the territory’s economic problems are
“structural—traceable, ultimately, to its muddled political status.” Curiously, the Post then
asserted that “there will be time enough to debate” the status issue later and that Puerto Rico, for
the time being, should focus exclusively on fixing its finances.

As I observed in a letter to the Post’s editor, this is like a doctor recommending medicine to
alleviate a patient’s symptoms but doing nothing to treat the underlying disease. As long as Puerto
Rico remains a territory—deprived of equal treatment under critical federal spending and tax
credit programs, forced to borrow heavily to make up the difference, and lacking the ability to vote
for the president and members of Congress who make our national laws—the island will be in a
position merely to manage, rather than to surmount, its economic problems. This is the only
reasonable conclusion to draw from decades of empirical evidence.

A majority of my constituents understand this, which is why they voted to reject territory status in
a referendum held one year ago. The Obama administration recognizes this as well, which is why
it proposed the first federally-sponsored status vote in Puerto Rico’s history to resolve the issue
once and for all. And, finally, Members of Congress from both parties comprehend this, which is
why 125 of them have co-sponsored legislation I introduced that provides for an up-or-down vote
in Puerto Rico on the territory’s admission as a state and outlines the steps the federal government
will take if a majority of voters favor admission.

There are many reasons to oppose Puerto Rico’s territory status, which is unequal, undemocratic
and un-American. One of the most important reasons why Puerto Rico must discard this status in
favor of either statehood or nationhood is because the current status has failed, and will continue
to fail, to provide the island’s 3.6 million American citizens with the economic opportunities and
quality of life they deserve. Those who refuse to acknowledge this fundamental truth for
ideological reasons are doing a great disservice to the people of Puerto Rico. They are on the
wrong side of history.

Thank you.

Issued: December 3, 2013
Gov. Alejandro García Padilla said Monday he inherited a Puerto Rico that had “fallen to pieces,” placing the blame for the island’s fiscal ...

García Padilla, Pierluisi spar over status
Issued: December 3, 2013
Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi is working to counter efforts by the administration of Gov. Alejandro García Padilla to derail legisla ...

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