Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello delivered a speech at the Heritage Foundation today that highlighted his nascent government’s early record of accomplishment and ended with a commitment to push for self determination – and ultimately statehood – for the people of Puerto Rico.
“I challenge anyone to find a more aggressive agenda anywhere in the country,” he said.
In remarks that highlighted his administration’s emphasis on government accountability and fiscal responsibility, the Governor highlighted his early accomplishments and emphasized his top four areas for structural reform: (1) labor, (2) business permitting, (3) tax, and energy. He reported on his success in enacting new laws to implement changes in labor and permitting policy and spoke about his goals for tax and energy reform. With respect to tax, Gov. Rossello explained that his goal is to wide the base and decrease rates. He added that his administration had already collected $60 million more than last year. In terms of energy improvements, he declared that the era of an energy monopoly with high rates and low reliability was over.
Gov. Rossello reported that he had also amended the island’s public-private-partnership (P3) law to make is “slimmer and more effective.” He added to audience applause that “if a service is given, you should really question if the government should be giving it.”
He said that he inherited a government with 131 agencies that was borrowing uncontrollably, including inter-governmental borrowing, a situation he labeled as unsustainable. He noted several times that he planned to vastly decrease the number of government agencies. He will also seek to promote tourism and solidify Puerto Rico’s brand as a top tourist destination.
“We have to change the narrative in Puerto Rico,” he stated. Whereas in the past Puerto Rico had spent its resources until government officials came to Washington for additional money, he promised controls, solid plans and no bailouts.
Turning to health care, the Governor explained that Puerto Rico’s health care costs are three times lower than any state in the nation. Yet, he noted with pride that “we’ve made this work even without equal treatment” in federal laws.
He reported that he had met with Health and Human Services Secretary David Price and Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator Seema Verma during his current visit, requesting funds that had been previously allotted to Puerto Rico. Rossello explained that the requested funding would provide “a runway to execute certain changes,” included reduced healthcare spending ($300 million next year), enhanced patient options, decreased costs and increased oversight of providers.
Governor Rossello told the audience that the HHS Secretary and CMS Administrator sent him a letter soon after their meeting in which they agreed that Puerto Rico needs funding to have a sustainable system. Rossello further pointed out that the collapse of Puerto Rico’s health care system would result in an exodus of its residents to states where expenses are three times as high.
The Governor concluded his remarks by noting that Puerto Rico is at a “critical junction in our history” as the territory’s first federally supported plebiscite approaches. “As a U.S. citizen, I can’t fathom that our nation of freedom and democracy still has a colony in its grasp,” he said to applause.
Rossello explained that the Puerto Rico government acepted the Department of Justice’s suggested changes to the plebiscite ballot and has returned to the Department “with openness.” He promised to return to Washington after the plebiscite is held and push for implementation of the results.