During the recent Natural Resources Committee Subcommittee on Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs hearing on the need to establish a “Financial and Economic Growth Authority” for Puerto Rico, two points came up repeatedly.
The first was that Puerto Rico would benefit from an independent board to oversee fiscal systems. Nearly all of the witnesses agreed that such a board is needed.
Anthony A. Williams, former mayor of Washington, D.C. and now a Senior Advisor with Dentons, spoke about his own experience with such a board and pointed to the current success and stability of D.C. as an example of a positive outcome from working with an oversight board. He spoke of the “need for a fresh and independent team of neutrals” who could help the various stakeholders work together more effectively toward a long term solution leading to a stable and growing economy.
Carlos M. Garcia, former Chairman and President of the Government Development Bank for Puerto Rico, spoke extensively about the possible structure and activities of such a board. Simon Johnson, Professor of Global Economics and Management at MIT Sloan School of Management, argued for a board that would have the authority to restructure debt. Eric LeCompte, the Executive Director of Jubilee USA Network, argued for a board which would keep humanitarian factors at top of mind.
The second point repeatedly raised at the hearing was that Puerto Rico would not be facing the current debt crisis if the territory were a state.
Congressman Don Young opened the hearing by saying, “We would not have this problem if Congress followed my advice to make Puerto Rico a state 15 years ago.” Pedro Pierluisi, Puerto Rico’s Resident Commissioner, seconded Rep, Young’s statement, saying, “Puerto Rico should have been treated equally a long time ago. A long time ago, Puerto Rico should have joined this union.”
Professor Johnson expressed his agreement as well. “If Puerto Rico were a state or had been allowed to become a state,” he said firmly, “we would not be here today.”
Rep. Jose Serrano also spoke forthrightly, saying that if Congress fails to resolve the political status of Puerto Rico, the same problems will recur “and recur and recur.”
The Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan (R-WI), has set Congress a March 31st deadline for a plan of action for dealing with Puerto Rico’s debt crisis.