Puerto Rico has been facing financial crises for some time. Now protestors on the Island are asking for an audit of the public debt and dissolution of the financial oversight board put in place by PROMESA. The Task Force on Economic Growth in Puerto Rico is considering hundreds of recommendations. And the governor of Puerto Rico is once again announcing intentions to revive or build up an industry — in this case, the sugar industry, but we have seen these announcements many times over the past year, and they have not so far led to economic improvement in the territory or even great progress in those industries.
Certainly, there are many steps that can be taken, and it is good to have strategic plans and actions toward prosperity. But we should not overlook the simple truth that statehood is the most certain solution.
Candidate for Puerto Rico governor Ricardo Rosselló, speaking about the financial crisis, put it very clearly when he described “the ultimate solution to this problem: achieving equality through statehood.”
When Puerto Rico becomes a state, inequity in federal funding for Medicaid will end. Puerto Rico will be entitled to the same kind of federal funding states receive. Right now, funding for everything from highway construction to emergency response to school lunches can be different in Puerto Rico from the states. It is legal for Congress to give less to Puerto Rico, because Puerto Rico is a territory. And so, since Congress has that option, Puerto Rico gets less.
When Puerto Rico becomes a state, political uncertainty will not inhibit U.S. corporations from doing business on the Island. Tax breaks can lure companies into some participation, but it’s hard to get past the uncertainty of building a factory on land that could be part of a foreign country by the time all the construction is completed.
When Puerto Rico becomes a state, there will be senators and voting congressional representatives who will be able to speak up for Puerto Rico in a way that isn’t happening now. As a territory, Puerto Rico has no senators, and just one representative in Congress. That representative, the Resident Commissioner, cannot vote on laws. With so little representation and so small a voice in decisions which affect the economy of the Island, Puerto Rico naturally does not have the kind of power needed to get the economy back on track.
There might be many small steps that could be taken to help Puerto Rico and many small improvements that could make a difference, but statehood would make important, permanent changes. Any small changes made by Congress this year or next year could be undone by Congress in the following year. This is true because Puerto Rico is a territory.
It does not make sense to fight for many small, potentially temporary changes when one big change will so many major improvements.
We have seen every territory become more prosperous as a state. It’s time for Puerto Rico to gain the rights and the responsibilities of a state. Tell your congressman.