Puerto Rico’s Potential Statehood Faces Tall Partisan Hurdles

By: Marianela Toledo FloridaWatchdog.org | Posted: February 19, 2014 3:55 AM
Puerto Rican statehood rally

Puerto Rican statehood rally

A movement is afoot in the U.S. Senate that would make Puerto Rico the 51st U.S. state, but the legislation has plenty of high partisan hurdles to clear.

The bill by Sen. Martin Heinrich, a New Mexico Democrat and a member of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, which has jurisdiction over the status of Puerto Rico, proposes asking island residents if they want to be admitted into the United States.

Heinrich’s bill was inspired by one that was submitted to the House of Representatives by Puerto Rico’s nonvoting member of Congress, Pedro Pierluisi, leader of the pro-statehood New Progressive Party. According to a press release by Pierluisi, the bill “demonstrates that the momentum on behalf of statehood continues to build,” and “we are closer than ever before to achieving our goal.”

That proposal, which was presented in the House in May, would give the go-ahead to begin the process of statehood for Puerto Rico. Although both bills were sponsored by Democrats, Pierluisi claims they received bipartisan support.

Juan Carlos Hidalgo, a policy analyst on Latin America at the Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity at the Cato Institute, said Puerto Rico’s governor, Alejandro García Padilla, who doesn’t support statehood, has to approve another referendum that would cost the federal government about $2.5 million.

Even if the referendum shows an overwhelming majority in favor of statehood, it must then be approved by a simple majority in Congress. ”That’s not going to happen,” Hidalgo said. “That is something that hardly happens because of the political consequences.”

Making Puerto Rico the 51st state would add two senators and six to eight representatives.

“These representatives are almost always Democrats and it would change the balance of power,” he said. “For the same reason, Republicans don’t want to give away their power in Washington, they are opposed to Puerto Rico becoming a state.”

Is statehood the silver bullet for the economy?

In November 2012, Puerto Ricans voted on a nonbinding ballot about their statehood preferences. As a result, “the future of the island is in limbo,” said Maurice Ferre, the first Puerto Rican elected as Miami’s mayor.

In that vote, approximately 61.2 percent of voters chose statehood.

Hidalgo believes Puerto Rico’s status as a U.S. territory puts it at a disadvantage.

“I think many of the current economic problems are because of the status,” he said.

Puerto Rico’s minimum wage is set by the U.S. government, for example, and Hidalgo said this has translated into a tremendous unemployment problem for the tiny nation. He points to that law as the reason 40 percent of Puerto Ricans are on welfare.

“The labor participation rate is among the lowest in the world. Only 41 percent of the people who are of working age work,” he said.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Government Accountability Office told Watchdog.org it will soon release a report on the economic and social status of the island. A few weeks ago the credit rating agencies Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s downgraded Puerto Rico’s bonds to “junk.”

“The cost of borrowing will be too high and they will have to restructure,” Hidalgo said.

Statehood could also give business start-ups pause because “companies would have to start paying federal taxes, which is what attracts them to set up shop here.”

Contact Marianela Toledo at Marianela.Toledo@FloridaWatchdog.org or on Twitter @mtoledoreporter.

Tags: News, Politics

Comments (7)

José M. Díaz Carazo
8:31PM FEB 20TH 2014
Puerto Rico does not need a straight up-or-down vote on Statehood. On four occasions -- 1967, 1993, 1998 and 2012 -- Puerto Ricans had the opportunity to choose against Statehood and in favor of having Washington and San Juan to sit down and renegotiate the terms of the Commonwealth, which is a contract that has not been touched since 1952. How many more referendums do we need so that Washington understands that, like in 1967, Puerto Ricans want to fix the Commonwealth, not replace it. What kind of democracy do we live in that we need a fifth referendum to carry out the will of the people in the previous four referendums? I mean, for crying out loud, Scotland and London have sat more times to renegotiate the terms of their association in the past decade than Washington has with Puerto Rico in 62 years. That's pathetic.
Narmo L. Ortiz, Sr.
12:34PM FEB 20TH 2014
As usual, too many experts expounding on a theme and situation they do not know anything about. The trouble being that there are more ignoramuses than learned persons dealing with this situation for the last 114 years. All the hypocrites in Congress need to declare themselves
once and for all remembering that ALL Puerto Ricans ARE NOT Democrats. And experts such as Mr. Hiraldo are a dime a dozen, and always with a hidden agenda.
Bill Bledsoe
7:36AM FEB 19TH 2014
Hidalgo is a pimp for BO. America does not need another 'state' of welfare recipients. Our federal gov't sends enough 'welfare' to that Island as it is. Leave it as a territory. What does Hidalgo think that minimum wage has done to our Maiinland? What puetrid rhetoric that guy spews. $2.5 Million for another vote? NOT!
José M. Díaz Carazo
3:58PM FEB 21ST 2014
Dude, you need to do a better job getting the facts. You only contribute $4.62 B per year to Puerto Rico on welfare and agency distributions. However, you yourself ransack $58.1B out of the island. You do this with your Corporate profit migrations up North (that’s $34B that do not get reinvested in Puerto Rico), you Tariff Taxes on goods from the Mainland to Puerto Rico ($22.6B), and of course, your Jones Act of 1920 Merchant Marine laws (that’s $1.5B).

However, don’t worry about Puerto Rico becoming a state. Just like you don’t like the idea of seeing us joining you, we don’t like the idea of joining you, or becoming someone like you.
10:20AM FEB 19TH 2014
What a sad, racist excuse for a human being . . . .

Pathetic . . .
5:52PM FEB 23RD 2014
Though what is even more pathetic - and even evil - is calling people racists who do not share your point of view.
1:10PM FEB 24TH 2014
Oh, you must be right . . . calling a Hispanic analyst for the highly "conservative" CATO Institute a "pimp" for the first elected black President is not promoting a racial stereotype at all, is it . . . . nor is portraying that President as a witchdoctor nor calling all Hispanics wetbacks, correct . . . so labeling a whole island of mostly Hispanic backgrounds just "another 'state' of welfare recipients" doesn't have demonizing racial tones to it, does it . . . . . . . . just in typical far right wing total denial, aren't you . . . whether about rape, science or racism . . .

Pathetic . . . .

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