Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) is the incoming chair of the House Natural Resources Committee, the committee which oversees Puerto Rico for Congress. In an interview last week with El Nuevo Dia, Puerto Rico’s largest news source, he outlined his plan for Puerto Rico:
- He wants to change the relationship between the PROMESA Fiscal Oversight and Management Board, “softening” the FOMB’s influence over the territorial government.
- He intends to focus on post-hurricane reconstruction on the Island.
- He wants to create a position to oversee the improvement of the electrical system.
Grijalva noted in his interview that he intends to take the committee to Puerto Rico early in 2019. Following that visit, he intends to hold public hearings.
The Puerto Rico Statehood Admission Act
Grijalva took a different position on the status question than current chair Rob Bishop (R-Utah), at least in his remarks to El Nuevo Dia. Bishop has spoken out strongly in favor of statehood for Puerto Rico. Grijalva said that he will listen to all points of view on status, but that reconstruction is his first priority.
Grijalva is not one of the Democratic cosponsors for the current Admission Act, HR6246, and he did not sign the recent letter to the Department of Justice by his Republican colleagues requesting a yes/no vote on statehood.
He told El Nuevo Dia that he believes the committee will get more of a sense of the political status situation when they visit the Island. He also said that “what we cannot do again is [hold a plebiscite] and do nothing.” Puerto Rico held status plebiscites in 2012 and 2017 in which voters chose statehood. Congress has so far taken no action in response.
The Inspector General
The position Grijalva wants to create for Puerto Rico is an individual who will not be on the FOMB, but who will be able to bring information about Puerto Rico’s electrical system to the Board and to Congress.
“It is not a trustee, it would be a person who can provide independent information, who has oversight power … A person outside the Board, but with federal authority, to report to Congress. The best way to explain them is to refer to the inspector general of a federal agency, “said Grijalva in his interview.
Grijalva favors renewable energy for Puerto Rico, but does not support privatization of the electrical system.
The PROMESA FOMB will be up for renewal in the summer of 2019. Grijalva wants to see “more respect” for the Island’s government. The Board’s relationships with Governor Rossello and former Governor Garcia Padilla have sometimes been contentious.
Reconstruction of Puerto Rico is Grijalva’s top priority.
“The priority must be the recovery of Puerto Rico, not austerity,” said Grijalva in his interview. “Puerto Rico will not succeed unless young families stay on the island. Cutting basic services, closing schools, lowering salaries, destroying the University of Puerto Rico (UPR) will not help the recovery process.”
Grijalva also mentioned the importance of solving the problem of inequity in Medicaid funding for Puerto Rico.