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LEARN ABOUT THE ISLAND
• Why should the U.S. want Puerto Rico as a state?

• Why should Puerto Ricans want to be a state?

• What would it cost the U.S. taxpayer to bring Puerto Rico into the fold?

• Why is this statehood issue of Puerto Rico important now? Can’t it wait?

• What are the economic arguments for statehood?

• What about the issue of the English language?

• Politically, would Puerto Rico be controlled by the Democratic Party or the
Republican Party?


• How Does A Territory Become A State?

• What’s Happening In Congress Now on the Statehood For Puerto Rico issue?

• I heard that not all Puerto Ricans want statehood. Why not?

• Nationalism

• Culture

• Economics

• Our Response

Why should the U.S. want Puerto Rico as a state?

  • We would benefit from it. Puerto Ricans have brought much to our society; politically, economically, culturally
     
  • The Puerto Rican people have earned it through their steadfast support of our country, our flag, and by sending their sons and daughters to fight in US wars, our wars,  ever since the Spanish American War in 1898.
     
  • We cannot continue to operate a colony, forcing U.S. citizens to accept a second-class citizenship, one without full political rights and equal representation, and not guaranteed by the constitution. The United States is a republic, not an empire
     
  • U.S. taxpayers are paying billions per year to prop up an economy that in its present form doesn’t work well.  It doesn't provide proportionate economic benefit for Puerto Ricans, nor does it provide to pay their share.
     
  • Commonwealth status was never meant to be permanent , it was meant as a transitional step

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Why should Puerto Ricans want to be a state?

  • They should not have to wait any longer to gain constitutionally-guaranteed citizenship with full political rights and responsibilities
     
  • Puerto Ricans would then share as everyone else in full benefits from our government, while paying taxes like everyone else
     
  • In the words of Don Luis Ferre, Ex-Governor of Puerto Rico, and winner of the U.S. Medal of Freedom, "It is an honor to be a citizen of the greatest country in the history of the World."

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What would it cost the U.S. taxpayer to bring Puerto Rico into the fold?

Based on studies conducted by noted economists, it is projected that Puerto Rico as a state will actually contribute to, rather than be dependent upon, the U.S. taxpayer.

Here’s why. Under the current system, Puerto Rico costs the U.S. over $9.7 billion yearly. Why? Because that’s what we lose from a combination of federal taxes forgone from large corporations doing business on the island as well as from individuals, together with grants-in-aid and transfer payments to the island. Puerto Rico gets significant amounts of federal grants-in-aid and transfer payments to individuals, such as veterans benefits, and welfare payments, which are not off-set by taxes collected on the island. (Puerto Ricans also draw Social Security, but they pay into it like everyone else.) These payments are in large part "needs tested." In other words, they support people who are elderly, poor or disabled.

Nothing wrong with that, except that no income taxes are being paid in. Part of the reason there are so many poor people in Puerto Rico is that the economic system in place under Commonwealth just doesn’t work well, creating a situation where many people are out of work; many underemployed.

 
La Alcaldia (city hall) In San Juan.

If Puerto Rico were to vote for independence, even though there is no evidence that they will, it would also be costly. It is inconceivable that the U.S. would set Puerto Rico adrift without a large "transition package" and continued foreign aid of a large magnitude. Remember, we are talking here of people who are currently U.S. citizens, who would demand favorable treatment and help. Puerto Rico, as an island with 3.8 million people and no other significant natural resources, is not economically viable as a separate nation without significant external aid and free access to large markets like our own.

With statehood, Puerto Rico can be economically viable and a contributor to our nation’s wealth.

Look at what happened to the last two states admitted to the Union, Hawaii and Alaska. Both economies grew substantially after being admitted to the Union and became net contributors to the U.S. Treasury. Puerto Rico would receive equal treatment in both taxes and benefits, the same as the other states. Benefits to the island under the current system are limited by Congress. Those limitations would be removed. At the same time, payments of federal taxes would be phased in, as provided by the enabling legislation. We estimate Puerto Rico as a state will contribute nearly $2 billion to the U.S. Treasury each year. How is that possible? Through economic growth. With economic growth there are more jobs, fewer unemployed, and less of a public assistance burden.

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Why is this statehood issue of Puerto Rico important now? Can’t it wait?

  • Puerto Ricans have been waiting over 100 years for equal treatment; from 1898 when the United States wrested control of the island from Spain following the Spanish-American War, until today.  That is a long time to wait.  No other U.S. Territory has been held in limbo for this length of time
     
  • The world has changed during that century.  Colonialism was commonplace in 1898, and was a foundation for large industrial economies. Colonies were used as friendly and dependable sources of raw materials for industry, as markets for finished products and  for soldier for armies.  The world is different today. Everyone in the world has much higher standards and expectations regarding human and civil rights, and worldwide the United States has championed this enhanced notion of self-determination and equality
     
  • The United States remains the leading nation in the world, economically and militarily.  More importantly, it is the preeminent standard bearer for democracy.  Our nation is still looked to for moral leadership in the world. Therefore, our colonial relationship with Puerto Rico is not justified by today’s standards and not in our nation’s best interest
     
  • Puerto Rico continues to be dependent on the U.S. taxpayers' assistance

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Honor Guards at U.S. Cemetry in Bayamon, PR

What are the economic arguments for statehood?

The arguments for statehood from the U.S. perspective lead to one single overriding factor-economic growth.  Statehood means that the island would shed its ineffective and costly reliance on preferential tax credits and more fully integrate into the national economy.  In a study by Hexner, Jenkins, Lad and Lame, "Puerto Rican Statehood: A Precondition to Sound Economic Growth," the case is persuasively made that statehood is necessary for the island's economic growth.

Puerto Rico would no longer be a substantial cash drain on the U.S. economy. With statehood, the Puerto Rico economy will grow, become a source of additional revenue to the national treasury, and be less costly in support for the  unemployed, the underemployed, and for disabled individuals who require public assistance.

For Puerto Rico, the standard of living would profoundly improve for the average person.  With average income going up, families will be able to pay their fair share of taxes while still improving their net income and standard of living.  For those with low incomes, the U.S. citizens of Puerto Rico will have the same access to tax relief and federal support programs as any other citizen of the country, unlike under the present status where significant disparities exist.

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What about the issue of the English language?

Some have made the argument that Puerto Rico should not be a state because Puerto Ricans do not speak English, and we should not have a non-English speaking state. This is a red herring issue for the following reasons:

  • English is already an official language on the island, as is Spanish
  • Puerto Ricans are already citizens of the U.S., and have been since the Jones Act of 1917.  There was no language requirement with the granting of citizenship then, so it makes no sense to ask this question now.  In fact, there has never been a language requirement of territories entering the union in our history
     
  • English is a required subject in public schools through high school
     
  • English is the only language of the Federal Court system and all U.S. government agencies in Puerto Rico and is the common language in banking, commerce, real estate and the tourism industry
     
  • Learning English as well as Spanish just makes good sense.  English is the the international language of business, science, and increasingly, diplomacy.  Puerto Rico should do all it can to increase English language capability.  But, making it a requirement of statehood would ignore the precedents of Enabling Acts of Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Arizona

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Politically, would Puerto Rico be controlled by the Democratic Party or the Republican Party?

  • Puerto Rico has a strong and vibrant Republican Party. Former governor Luis Ferre served as Chairman of the Republican Party of Puerto Rico for much of his life.  Former Lt. Governor Norma Burgos and many New Progressive Party members of the Puerto Rico Legislature and mayors on the island are Republican.
     
  • Does this mean the Republicans will dominate?  No, because Puerto Rico also has a strong and vibrant Democratic Party.  Just ask former Governor Pedro Rossello, or Resident Commissioner Carlos Romero Barcelo.  They are Democrats.
     
  • Nobody can predict how a state will turn out politically.  We must remember that when Hawaii and Alaska came into the Union, it was widely predicted that Hawaii was assured for the Republicans and Alaska would only send Democrats to the Senate and House of Representatives. How did it turn out?  Just the opposite.

    Ask Democratic Senators Inouye and Akaka of Hawaii; or Republican Senators Murkowski and Stevens of Alaska, or their Republican Congressman, Don Young.  In fact, it has been Don Young who lent his name to the "Young Bill" in 1998 which passed the House of Representatives authorizing a self-determination process for Puerto Rico.
     
  • The fact is, Puerto Rico, like most states in the union, will be a contested state politically, with good candidates from both parties being sent to Washington to represent the island.  Puerto Rico is politically sophisticated with a history of strong party affiliation and contested elections.  And nearly everyone who is eligible to vote in Puerto Rico exercises that privilege.

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How Does A Territory Become A State?

Various routes have been taken in the long history of the United States for colonies and territories to become a state.  Normally, the area must muster local political support and petition the U.S. Congress for admittance to the Union.  The approval process is relatively straightforward.  A bill, called an "enabling act," must gain a majority vote in both houses of the U.S. Congress, the House of Representatives and the Senate.  When approved, it is signed by the President. Normally there will be provisions in the bill spelling out any transitional measures that must be taken to become a state by either the petitioning entity or the U.S. government.  Admission of a state does not change the Constitution. It requires no super majority; nor does it require ratification by the individual states.

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Puerto Rico's Legislature Building

What’s Happening In Congress Now on the Statehood For Puerto Rico issue?

The 105th (1997-'98) Congress was the most active on this issue of any Congress in History.

A bill co-sponsored by a host of Congressmen from both Republican and Democratic Parties, (HR 856), after long debate was passed by a vote of 209 to 208.  This legislation, The Puerto Rico Political Status Act, commonly referred to as the "Young Bill" after its chief sponsor, Congressman Don Young of Alaska, established definitions for the three basic alternatives, statehood, independence or separate sovereignty, and commonwealth, and a multi-year process by which a final disposition of the issue could be made. Essentially, the process called for a referendum on the issue to be held in Puerto Rico. Once the decision was made for statehood or independence, a process would be set up to transition into that status, to be agreed to by subsequent votes of the U.S. Congress and Puerto Rican referenda.

A similar bill, S-472, was initiated in the Senate, sponsored by Senator Murkowski, Chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and a host of co-sponsors.  The bill was not reported from committee after the Chairman concluded that due to the lack of time remaining on the legislative calendar, there would not be time for Senate action.  What the Senate did do, however, was pass a resolution (S. Res. 279) by unanimous consent that endorsed a Puerto Rico plebiscite (scheduled for December 1998), which called for preferences on status options.

In December 1998, a non-binding plebiscite on status was held in Puerto Rico, but due to the alternatives presented the voters, little in the way of definite conclusions can be drawn.  In addition to the normal alternatives, of statehood, commonwealth, and independence, voters were given the alternatives of “None of The Above” and “Free Association.”  Because of the confusion on the ballot with definitions of status provided, the “None of The Above” alternative won the majority (50.2%) votes cast. Statehood won the plurality of votes cast for the actual alternatives decisively (46.5%), followed by Independence (2.5%); Free Association (0.2%; and Commonwealth (0.1%).

No legislation favoring self determination for Puerto Rico has been pushed in the U.S. Congress during the period 1999-2003.  This was due primarily to the preoccupation of Congress with other issues, the national election campaign and Puerto Rican elections that run conterminous, and subsequent world and national events.  It was also due in part to the preoccupation in Puerto Rico and the Congress with the issue related to Navy use of Vieques Island for bombing practice and the accidental death of a Puerto Rican security guard.  It is possible that legislation could be introduced in 2004 or 2005.

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I heard that not all Puerto Ricans want statehood.  Why not?

It is true that not all Puerto Ricans favor statehood, but the trend for the last two decades has been towards majority support of joining the union.  There are some very legitimate reasons why people may favor another alternative, commonwealth (the current status), independence, or free association (like Micronesia).  The vast majority of people in Puerto Rico have a very positive feeling towards the United States, even though some may not want to become a state.  Although we do not agree with these reasons, we understand them.

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Nationalism

Some people would rather Puerto Rico become an independent country.  Puerto Ricans are a proud people and a minority in Puerto Rico want sovereignty as a separate country.  We believe that this is an honorable alternative, but in vote after vote, independence has been rejected by the overwhelming majority of Puerto Ricans.  National identity is understandable, and is something that the people of every territory that ever became a state of the United States had to grapple with.  Strong national and state identity is evident in every state of the union.  Indeed, the original 13 colonies had to also deal with this issue over whether or not and how to give up some of their individual sovereignty in order to form a Union.

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Culture

Some people are concerned that their Spanish heritage and culture will be overwhelmed and therefore lost forever by a dominant "anglo" culture.  This is also an understandable feeling.  We believe that Puerto Rico and Puerto Ricans will never lose their identity, while becoming an equal part of our whole country.  Why not?  Because Puerto Rican identity is strong and continues to be so.  Puerto Rico has been exposed to U.S. mainland cultures for a long time, 100 years---and Puerto Rican culture and heritage has thrived and grown. Puerto Rico has adopted and adapted aspects of U.S. culture, just as we have incorporated much of Puerto Rican culture when exposed to it.  At their core, these cultures are western and we believe they are compatible and complement each other.  They are not a threat to one another.  In sum, Puerto Ricans, while citizens, in much the same way as Texans and others view themselves, are still Puerto Ricans despite the more than 100 years of the deep and strong relationship with the mainland United States.

Commonwealth backers insist that statehood would bring more pressure against Puerto Rican culture through full integration into the Union.  But the fact is, Puerto Ricans and mainland citizens have moved freely between the island and the mainland with no resulting cultural dilution or weakening of Puerto Rican's strong identity, even with the large migrations of the 1930's, the 1950's and since then.  Furthermore, the fact is that Puerto Ricans will be in a stronger position to control their own destiny as a state than it ever can be as a territory, achieved through the protections of the U.S. Constitution and full representation in Congress that would be available to it as a state.  Currently, Puerto Rico is legally a territory, and governed by the will of the Congress.  Even U.S. citizenship for Puerto Ricans is granted by act of Congress, and due to the territorial status of Puerto Rico, is not guaranteed by the Constitution.

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Economics

Federal Taxes.  
Some Puerto Ricans believe they would be worse off economically under statehood because they would be subject to federal income taxes.  But our studies show that Puerto Ricans will be better off through the economic growth that would come from full integration into the U.S. economy, and have higher disposable incomes, after taxes, under the statehood option. They would also have full access to the full range of federal support and programs available to citizens in need.

Commonwealth backers insist on what we call the "Big Lie."   They claim Puerto Rico can continue to have the "best of both worlds" under the Commonwealth status and continue to get federal benefits, while they promise even more financial and economic benefits under their plans; without paying federal income taxes and still staying outside the union.  They promise all this while Puerto Rico and Puerto Ricans are without full voting representation in the House of Representatives and the Senate.  Under the Commonwealth arrangement Puerto Rico's one single delegate to Congress has no voting rights.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  

Evidence shows that the Puerto Rico state income tax burden to Puerto Ricans under the current Commonwealth system in which the islands has its own tax system, is excessive and disproportionate to incomes when compared with the states.  This reality is even more acute with respect to the majority of Puerto Rican families and individuals, those with low and moderate incomes.  Approximately 50 percent of Puerto Ricans live under the federal poverty line.  The fact is that the commonwealth option costs Puerto Ricans economically everyday.  Full integration to the national economy will provide job creation and income benefits.  Preferential tax benefits to mainland corporations are already being reduced due to legislation that is phasing out IRS Section 936 tax incentives for these corporations.  It is estimated that Puerto Ricans are on the average $6,000 per year poorer today than citizens of Mississippi, our least well off state.

Payroll Taxes in Puerto Rico - No change with statehood. Puerto Ricans are already integrated to the mainland payroll tax system and therefore full incorporation as a state of the union will not mean drastic changes in the way individuals and families in Puerto Rico make their contributions.  It will not cause economic hardship to Puerto Ricans nor it will require new federal processes or the creation of new agencies for implementation.  Puerto Ricans already fully contribute Payroll Taxes to the national Social Security and Medicare systems (combined these are known as FICA tax) the same way as all other US taxpayers.  The rate is exactly the same as that paid by taxpayers in the states, 7.65%.  The self-employed are also already required to pay Social Security and Medicare taxes at the same rate, and are permitted to take a deduction on their income tax returns, proportionate to the self-employed.  As mentioned earlier, Puerto Ricans pay proportionately more in Puerto Rico state income tax than the citizens of similar incomes in the states who pay a combination of federal, state and sometimes local income taxes.

Medicaid - Commonwealth status continues to immiserate U.S. citizens in need.  For the least financially well off in US society, Medicaid is often the support mechanism through which needed medical care service and attention is provided.  Medicaid funding is disbursed to state governments and the program is administered by state agencies.  Due to Puerto Rico's status as a territory and not a state, the US citizens of Puerto Rico receive only 15 percent of the funding in Puerto Rico where 50 percent of citizens live under the poverty line.

Federal funding for Medicaid in Puerto Rico is capped at about $200 million annually as of December 2003, according to the Council of State Governments.  The federal government funds 85 percent of Medicaid spending in the states.

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Our Response

Independence is an honorable option that gets high marks only from those who think in emotional and highly nationalistic terms.  Puerto Rican identity is strong and will always be strong, irrespective of status.  A people with a history as long and rich as Puerto Ricans will not lose their identity as a result of a change in political status. 

Commonwealth holds out the falsehood that Puerto Ricans call their own shots, can have all benefits bestowed by U.S. citizenship, and still not pay federal taxes.  To us, this inequality is the worst of all worlds and Commonwealth backers paints a colorful that simply does not exist.  It does not exist now and under Commonwealth status it never will.  Fundamentally, it cannot.

In response to these myths we put forward the following facts:

1.  Puerto Rico is a territory of the United States with limited self-government.

Despite pretensions to the contrary by proponents of the existing status Puerto Rico does not call its own shots in its dealing with the U.S. Congress, the mainland, regionally or internationally.  It has been the habit of commonwealth backers, to say, suggest or imply that it does; and this is both a gross untruth and a misinterpretation of the most dishonest proportions.

2.  The people of Puerto Rico are not fully represented and do not have fiull voting rights in the U.S. Congress where they are represented by a single non-voting delegate.  Therefore, the people of Puerto Rico do not exercise sovereignty over their own affairs.

While Puerto Ricans elect a governor and have a state government like all the states, the United States Congress controls the destiny of Puerto Rico and Puerto Rico's external affair, in foreign trade, international relations and international security affairs including military issues.  Puerto Rico has powerless representation in the U.S. House of Representatives under Commonwealth.  It is also a fact that Federal law is already paramount in Puerto Rico due to its territorial status, and has been since the Treaty of Paris in 1898.

3.  The U.S. citizens of Puerto Rico will never be able to deal with the Congress on an equal footing until they have full sovereign voting rights in Congress and thereby exercise control over their own affairs.  This can only be achieved with statehood.

4.  Puerto Ricans do not have constitutionally guaranteed citizenship now and what they have is a limited second class variety extended to them by Act of Congress in 1917.  United States citizenship can only be guaranteed by Puerto Rico becoming a state.

Under the current status Puerto Ricans will not receive more or equal benefits as citizens residing in the states.  On the contrary, it is likely that under the current status they will probably receive less federal benefits, and are losing more federal tax incentives as each year goes by.  Statehood, on the other hand, will offer first class citizenship with full rights as guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.  Puerto Rico will be able to send a full delegation of elected representatives and senators to the U.S. Congress and be able to vote for President for the first time.  That very same U.S. Constitution will protect the rights of Puerto Rico as a state and Puerto Ricans as citizens, the same as the other 50 states.  And we predict the island will experience swift economic growth with statehood, bringing its economic indicators and standard of living up to a level equal to the other states of the Union.

 

 

 

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