Puerto Rico Governor Pedro Pierluisi is planning a special election in May to choose congressional delegates to represent Puerto Rico in Washington as he and the Resident Commissioner work to make Puerto Rico’s chosen status, statehood, a reality.
Anti-statehood politicians have raised a flurry of objections to the plan. Some say that requiring English of the delegates, who will be in Washington, D.C., working with Congress to implement the November plebiscite vote, is discriminatory. Others continue to make the false claim that the November 3rd vote, which showed a clear majority for statehood, is not valid. Another objection is the cost of the ballot.
Local news outlet NotiCel reports that Pierluisi publicly defended the investment in statehood.
“The best investment we can make at the level of public funds is to advocate for equality,” the governor said. “The amount of additional federal funds that Puerto Rico would receive if we were treated equally is extraordinary. We are easily talking about $ 6,000 or $ 7,000 million a year.”
Return on investment
It is legal for Congress to treat a territory differently from a state. States must all be treated equally under the U.S. constitution, but territories do not have this requirement.
As a result, Puerto Rico receives significantly less federal funding as a territory than it would as a state. For example, Medicaid and nutrition assistance programs are capped, and are reimbursed at a lower rate than states. This means that Puerto Rico must cover much more of its healthcare and other essential expenses than states do.
As a state, therefore, Puerto Rico will receive more federal support than it does now.
Beyond that, statehood will give Puerto Rico a level playing field for business investments. Previous territories that have become states saw enormous economic growth as soon as they were admitted. There is no reason to think that things would be different for Puerto Rico.
Avoiding the expenses associated with advancing statehood would be a false economy.
Pandemic spending not affected
While opponents have claimed that the election, scheduled for May 16th, would reduce funds available for responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, this is not the case. Funding for vaccinations, testing, and other pandemic-related expenses comes from different sources.
The PROMESA Fiscal Oversight and Management Board will have to approve the budget for the vote. They are expected to do so.
Puerto Rico had a slate of delegates, the Equality Commission, who were chosen by the governor in 2017. The delegation was evenly split between Republican and Democratic leaders, with one independent representative. This time, the intention is to have the delegates elected by the people.