Puerto Rico’s statehood win was a ruse
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The multi-million dollar plebiscite is over and yielded a clear result: the people of Puerto Rico want a leader focused on restoring economic strength and credibility to the Commonwealth rather than pursuing statehood.

This is a major setback for the governor on two fronts. His statehood platform is finished and, perhaps even more importantly, he can no longer hide his or the Oversight Board’s financial gimmickry behind the ruse of Statehood.

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We know the results: the vast majority of Puerto Ricans did not even turn out to vote with a paltry 23 percent participation rate. This comes after all opposition parties boycotted the vote because it was unfair for other status options. The Trump administration, in a letter to the governor, essentially labeled the ballot fraudulent and a suppression of voters’ rights. Meanwhile, the 77 percent of voters who boycotted the plebiscite demonstrated in clear terms that the people of Puerto Rico are tired of the governor parading around the streets and on Fox with a false message that statehood can solve all of our problems. 

Now that the phony plebiscite is over, the governor will be held to account on the basis of his actual governing, and things are already looking bleak.

We’re almost at one-year since PROMESA came into force, and Puerto Rico remains far away from meeting the goals of achieving economic growth, returning to the capital markets and good faith negotiations as required by that federal law. 

Opening Puerto Rico to business was the goal Congress had in mind when it passed PROMESA one year ago. However, twelve months later the government of Puerto Rico is repeating the same mistakes that put the Commonwealth in this situation in the first place: reckless spending, failing to identify essential services and neglecting to adhere to the rule of law.

The 2018 fiscal year budget presented by Gov. Ricardo Rosselló – and endorsed by the Oversight Board – has drawn intense scrutiny both inside and outside of the commonwealth. It increases overall spending while not defining a single essential service. The governor claims that times have never been worse but the numbers contradict this message as tax revenues are at historic highs.

The budget, however, does make clear where some of the taxpayer dollars go: $800 million into two slush funds. The governor reserved this $800 million for “rainy day” funds to provide himself a cushion rather than reform Puerto Rico.

While the governor plays politics with the people’s money and services, everyday Puerto Ricans are suffering. Thousands will lose their healthcare coverage, a furlough program seems unavoidable, pensioners will get a 10 percent cut out of their monthly checks which in many cases top less that $1,000, and the University of Puerto Rico gets a reduction of a quarter its budget.

Rosselló won office on the promise of servicing Puerto Rico’s debt. Once in office, he chose not to make necessary changes to restore the island’s credibility. The budget provides almost nothing for debt service, even to his own seniors and retirees living on the island. Predictably, this has drawn immediate criticism from the markets, and now these groups are furiously lobbying Congress to expose innumerable shortcomings of the governor fiscal claims. Without doubt, this will severely hamper the governor’s credibility in Washington, and arguably, it already has.

In fact, federal lawmakers have already been vocal in their criticism over the governor’s charade.  Sen. Tom CottonTom CottonSenate rejects ObamaCare repeal, replacement amendment Live coverage: Senate begins debate on ObamaCare repeal If our innovators have no reward, how will America compete? MORE (R-Ark.) and Rep. Rob BishopRob BishopOvernight Energy: GOP moves to reform Endangered Species Act GOP takes aim at reforming Endangered Species Act Favoring some of Puerto Rico's creditors over others a mistake Congress should avoid MORE (R-Utah) have both expressed serious concern with how the Rosselló administration and the Oversight Board are handling negotiations. Rep. Doug La Malfa (R-Calif.) made it clear that his committee will not entertain any Statehood claim from Puerto Rico until fiscal stability is achieved.

Rossello was elected on a platform with two clear pillars: statehood and the responsible resolution of the fiscal crisis. With the former completely destroyed and the latter subject to significant and mounting criticism from all sides, it’s time to see what kind of governor we have elected. If he does not have the will to right the ship and make tough decisions, Puerto Rico will continue to slide down the same well-worn path of irresponsibility that got us into crisis.

Today, unfortunately, that is looking like the most likely of possibilities. 

Angel Rosa is former Puerto Rico Senator, and Professor of Political Science at the University of Puerto Rico.  He proposed the boycott in Puerto Rico’s status recent plebiscite.


The views expressed by this author are their own and are not the views of The Hill.