Puerto Rico has 78 municipalities. Some say that’s too many. The New York Times asks how many mayors Puerto Rico can afford, with a nod to the tradition of mayoral largesse. The price of 78 municipalities, according to the Times:
- $4.8 million in mayors’ salaries
- $91 million in costs related to running the mayors’ offices
- $1.1 billion in payroll
- $2.2 billion for local budgets
With some municipalities a few square miles in size and a couple thousand in population, some observers think the cash-strapped territory could realize some real savings by reducing the number of municipalities. Just roll some of the smaller ones together, they figure, and benefit from sharing the costs.
This article was published in 2016. The hurricanes distracted supporters and nothing happened.
But economist Gustavo Velez has a proposal.
Reorganize the municipalities to reflect the pre-Colombian Taino chieftains’ territories.
Velez, who called upon Puerto Rico to “Think Big” in a recent column in El Nuevo Dia, used that hashtag for his suggested change.
He wants to see big changes in Puerto Rico, and expressed frustration that “most of our political leaders clearly show that there is no real capacity to design or execute the structural reforms that the country needs to overcome its prolonged crisis.”
Let’s think bigger
Restructuring the municipalities could be a good choice. Making real structural reforms could help. But we know from history that territories of the United States have generally faced financial troubles and political upheaval. When they became states, they became more prosperous. Some, like Hawaii and Alaska, went from poverty to wealth. Others, like Mississippi and New Mexico, have continued to struggle — but have done far better economically than Puerto Rico.
The voters of Puerto Rico have already chosen statehood. Let’s make it happen. When it is clear that Puerto Rico is on a path to statehood, outside investments will come. Equality in federal benefits will be assured.
Leaders must still make good decisions and the people may still need to Think Big, but statehood is the necessary and sufficient step toward prosperity for Puerto Rico.