The history of the relationship between opposing political parties in Puerto Rico has never been characterized as united. Politicians from the Commonwealth party and from the Statehood party usually do not agree on how to address important issues affecting the island.
Through an initiative of Governor Ricardo Roselló, the “Frente por Puerto Rico” – United Front for Puerto Rico – committee was established to join opposing party officials to present a united voice of Puerto Rico to the United States government. Its members include former Governors Aníbal Acevedo Vilá and Alejandro García Padilla, who campaigned against Governor Roselló in the previous election.
Today Governor Roselló, along with some members of the “Frente por Puerto Rico” committee, held a press conference addressing the state of the island after hurricane Irma and their agenda in Washington DC.
Hurricane Irma’s effect on the island
Although the initial estimate of damages around the island after hurricane Irma was about $600 million, estimates have increased upwards of $1 billion based on further assessments. The relationship between the Puerto Rican government and FEMA has been impeccable, according to the Governor, yet once the funds allocated to the island are depleted, a second package will be needed to address the restoration effort.
One Voice in Washington
The main purpose for the “Frente por Puerto Rico” committee visit to Washington D.C. is to deliver a united voice on certain topics that are of importance to Puerto Ricans. The first three topics that the group is embarking on are: healthcare, tax reform, and economic growth for Puerto Rico.
Medicaid and Medicare funding has been a pressing issue for the island of Puerto Rico, but funding is also important to the United States government. It has been estimated that Medicaid costs per patient are generally triple in any state relative to Puerto Rico. As Puerto Rican Medicaid recipients move to the states, they end up costing both state and federal government funding sources substantially more money.
“Our main argument here is that we want fair and sustainable treatment for Puerto Rico.” stated the Governor concerning healthcare for the island.
“We have been discriminated against for a long time,” added Resident Commissioner Jennifer González Colón. Noting that the governor is implementing reforms to cut expenses of Medicaid and Medicare on the island, she emphasized that Puerto Rico is doing its part. “We need Congress to act on that matter.”
The United Front seeks to promote the importance of Puerto Rico in the current tax reform discussions in Congress. Puerto Rico is treated domestically in certain aspects of federal law, but the U.S. territory is treated more like a foreign country for tax purposes.
The Governor stated: “If Puerto Rico is not considered in tax reform it would be a devastating blow to our economy and growth potential.” If Congress passes a tax reform, it could further the economic development of the island, he added, while also noting that it would pose a threat to the manufacturing sector of Puerto Rico if the U.S. territory is left out of discussions.
Economic Growth opportunities for Puerto Rico
On December 20, 2016 the Congressional Task Force on Economic Growth in Puerto Rico issued a report, but no action has stemmed from it. The committee wants to urge Congress to take action based on the report so that Puerto Rico can move forward.
Governor Rosselló stated: “This is the most important proponent of the PROMESA bill. If we don’t have economic development, equal treatment or fair treatment, Puerto Rico will not be able to progress….The history is there, Washington had a fiscal oversight board few decades ago. Two years into their oversight tenure, members stated publicly that they had used all the fiscal instruments they had. But they still had no progress or marginal progress at best. The main reason was that they did not have equal treatment as a state and no economic development.”
Governor Roselló announced that he has received confirmation by the White House that President Trump will visit the island to see the damage caused by hurricane Irma. The visit was confirmed by Tom Bossert, assistant to the President concerning national security matters.
“I appreciate the interest of President Donald Trump to visit our Island to assess the damages to the government’s infrastructure and to Puerto Rican families. Also, it will be a great opportunity for him to see first-hand the collaboration between the Puerto Rican government and the federal government in the efforts of aiding United States citizens from St. Thomas and St. Martin, “stated the Governor.
Throughout the press conference, all of the members said that they had chosen to put their differences aside and work together towards solving these issues. The political status will still be there tomorrow, but at least for today, the relationship between these opposing political parties can be characterized as united.