A Puerto Rico administration panel co-chaired by the “Commonwealth” party governor’s top aide has recommended a plan to improve the territory’s economy that would conflict with the U.S. Constitution and major Federal policies.
According to an official, the panel’s recommendations are to be integrated into a “Recovery Plan” in the insular government budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1st that Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla is expected to propose to the Legislative Assembly soon.
Included in the dozens of recommendations given Garcia Padilla in a recent meeting are four major Federal initiatives that have roots in the “Commonwealth” party’s proposal for a new “Commonwealth” political status.
One measure that would run counter to the U.S. Constitution would give the Commonwealth government the power to enter into trade agreements and organizations with foreign countries. International trade arrangements are foreign policy matters exclusively within Federal authority, according to the Constitution.
Internationally, the U.S. Government would be responsible for fulfilling foreign trade commitments made by Puerto Rico if the Commonwealth were allowed to make such pledges — an obviously unacceptable situation.
Federal officials said that a similar proposal was a constitutional impossibility during a congressional hearing in the year 2000. The State Department similarly weighed in against the proposal during the administrations of both George W. Bush and Bill Clinton.
Another proposal that raises constitutional questions would ask the Federal government for a study of the effects of the application of the Constitution’s Commerce Clause to Puerto Rico. The constitutional provision gives Congress the power to make laws in matters with a relation to commerce.
Congress and the Courts have used the Commerce Clause to justify many Federal laws — some with only a very slight connection to doing business. Federal courts have said that that Congress’ authority through the Clause applies to Puerto Rico.
A study of the effects on Puerto Rico of the congressional power would cover a wide range of Federal laws. If the study were to lead to a request to exempt Puerto Rico from the power, it would raise the question of whether an exemption law would be constitutional.
The two other recommendations concern major Federal policies. One would authorize Puerto Rico to use Federal program funds in ways it determines that are different from how it is permitted to use the monies now.
There would seem to be little chance that the Federal government would let Puerto Rico use Federal funds in ways that States, other territories, and the District of Columbia cannot.
“Commonwealth” party leaders have often given the fourth recommendation as a “Commonwealth” status objective even though it is unrelated to the territory’s status. It would exempt Puerto Rico from the laws requiring the use of American built, owned, crewed, and flagged vessels for shipping ocean freight between U.S. ports.
The U.S. Departments of Transportation and Defense opposed legislation for a Puerto Rican exemption in 1996. President Obama’s Task Force on Puerto Rico’s Status rebuffed a “Commonwealth” party request for a study of the impact of the laws on the territory a little more than three years ago.
Congress’ Government Accountability Office subsequently studied the impact — but its report just over a year ago did not substantiate the “Commonwealth” party’s claim that the laws negatively affect the territory.
Secretary of the Governorship Ingrid Vila Biaggi co-chaired the Action Board for the Competitiveness and Growth of Puerto Rico that Garcia established last month. The other Co-Chair was the head of a company that sells cars and boats. The Board also included a diverse group of 19 individuals. Among them were a religious leader, an expert on culture, and a sociologist, and the head of a “Commonwealth” party-oriented foundation in addition to academics, labor union leaders, businesspeople, an economist, and government officials.