In the 1750s and 1760s, there was a political slogan popular in America: “No taxation without representation.”
Americans at that time were British citizens. They paid taxes to England, but they had no representation in the Parliament, which was similar to the House and Senate in the United States today. When England passed taxes on sugar, tea, and other items which Americans had to pay, Americans objected to having such laws made by a government in which they had no voice.
The people of Puerto Rico are citizens of the United States, just as the American colonists were citizens of Britain.
Does Puerto Rico pay taxes?
Puerto Rico pays taxes to the United States, too. In 2011, Puerto Rico paid $3.3 billion in taxes to the U.S., about the same amount as Vermont. In 2016, the total was $3.6 billion. Sometimes Puerto Rico pays more than Vermont.
Some of the kinds of taxes paid by the people of Puerto Rico:
- Social Security taxes
- payroll taxes
- import taxes
- export taxes
- commodity taxes
Most people in Puerto Rico do not pay Federal income taxes. However, they do pay local income taxes, and in many cases these are higher than Federal income taxes would be. What’s more, nearly half of the people on the mainland do not pay income taxes. They may have to file, but tax credits and deductions mean that many people in the United States do not pay federal income taxes.
So we can see that the people of Puerto Rico, as a group, pay taxes just as other U.S. citizens do.
What about representation?
U.S. citizens living on the mainland are represented in the U.S. government by a president whom they elect, and by senators and congressional representatives whom they elect. These representatives have a voice in the making of laws that affect the daily lives of their constituents, because they are able to vote on those laws.
U.S. citizens living in Puerto Rico are represented by a single Resident Commissioner. The first Resident Commissioner, Federico Degetau y González, was elected more than a century ago and served from 1901 to 1905. He didn’t even have a chair to sit in while Congress was meeting, and he remarked that Puerto Rico had been better represented in Spain than in the U.S.
Degetau y González spent several years of his tenure fighting to be allowed to speak in Congress. Today’s Resident Commissioner can speak and can serve on committees, but cannot vote when her vote would make a difference in the outcome.
Just like the Colonial Americans of the 1700s, the people of Puerto Rico do not have adequate representation in the government that collects taxes from them. As a State, Puerto Rico will have the same level of representation as the people living in the 50 states.
It is time for Puerto Rico to become a state.