|Acevedo Unaware Of -- Or Hides -- Decisions On Puerto Rico Funding
Puerto Ricos sole Member of the U.S. House of Representatives, Resident Commissioner Anibal Acevedo Vila ("commonwealth" party/D), is not shy in trying to project responsibility for money that the Congress decides to grant Puerto Rico. He often, though:
- has done little to bring about the decisions;
- does not even know about the congressional actions until he is alerted to them by Puerto Rican reporters in Washington; and
- tries to cover-up his failures to obtain appropriations for the territory.
Congressional funding decisions over the past month provide dramatic evidence of this.
$ One of Puerto Ricos annual funding issues in the Congress is money for Tren Urbano, a rail system being built to serve San Juan, Bayamon, and Guaynabo. This billion and a half dollar project -- which will transport hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans daily and alleviate traffic in San Juan -- is an important one for the territorial government.
On July 11th, the House of Representatives Transportation and Treasury Appropriations Subcommittee completed action on the funding issues within its jurisdiction for the fiscal year that begins October 1st, fiscal year 2004 -- including the funding for Tren Urbano. Puerto Rico reporters asked Acevedo what happened. He did not know and could not find out even days afterwards. Meanwhile, private lobbyists as well as many of Acevedos fellow Members of the House learned of the decisions on the projects for which they were seeking funding.
The Subcommittee did not publicly release its decisions until after they were approved by the full Appropriations Committee July 24th but Acevedo still did not have any news on the issue to report.
It is not as if the funding is so routine that it is not newsworthy. For the current fiscal year, the House Committee added $20 million to President Bushs request of $40 million for the project. [The House increase was due to the work of Representative Jose Serrano (D-NY) rather than Acevedo.] The Senate cut the House proposal in half to $30 million. A conference between representatives of the House and the Senate settled on the Bush request of $40 million.
It is also not that Acevedo has lost interest in announcing congressional funding decisions. On July 18th, his office announced $1.7 million to protect the Puerto Rican parrot (although the news release headline stated that the amount was $1.7 billion).
This year, the House Committee recommended $43,540,000 for Tren Urbano -- President Bushs request.
The House Committees bill also would provide additional funding for mass transit in Puerto Rico. $2,450,605 would be provided for modernization of the rail system.
The bill would also allocate $45,305,028 in formula (that is, not special) grants for mass transit needs in Puerto Rico. This includes $43,018, 815 for urbanized areas, $886,505 for areas that are not urbanized, and $1,383,261 for transportation of individuals who are elderly or disabled.
Another $750,000 would be granted for the bus system in San Juan and
$500,000 would be given to the Puerto Rico Port Authoritys ferry program.
Now Acevedo knows not only what his House colleagues have recommended for Tren Urbano but what they would provide for other mass transit projects as well.
$ Acevedos biggest appropriations failure -- and possible cover up -- of the month involves the only special funding initiative that President Bush has proposed for Puerto Rico: $8 million in drinking water system improvements in San Juan.
On July 15th, the House Veterans Affairs and Housing and Urban Development Appropriations Subcommittee acted on the proposal along with the other programs within its jurisdiction for fiscal year 2004. Again, there was no word of the result from Puerto Ricos resident commissioner. (Nor, for that matter, was their any information from Acevedos fellow representatives of the Calderon Administration to the federal government -- the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration and lobbyists, lawyers, and other government relations professionals paid millions of dollars a year.)
On July 21st, the full House Appropriations Committee approved the legislation. There was still no information from Acevedo.
The full House passed the bill July 25th. Acevedo remained silent.
Acevedos failure to report on the fate of the proposal may be due to embarrassment. The Appropriations Committee was explicit in not approving the funding.
Members of the Congress are expected to take the lead in pushing for special funding for their districts when the President proposes it. In this case, Acevedo had the advantage of having the backing of a President whose party has a controlling majority in the House. He did not succeed and did not want Puerto Ricans to know he did not unless this was another instance in which he, too, did not know the result even though the Committees report was publicly released.
The legislation would also provide a special grant of $1,650,000 to Barceloneta, Puerto Rico for water infrastructure improvements. Is this an occurrence of a rare Acevedo congressional success? No, Barceloneta has had its own representative, an effective one.
$ Acevedo at least sometimes finds out about congressional actions concerning Puerto Rico. On July 20th, his office proudly announced that the House Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee approved $300,000 for a study of the Martin Pena Canal in San Juan. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will examine the possibility of cleaning and dredging the canal.
The only problem with Acevedos announcement is that the Subcommittee acted on July 8th -- 12 days before. Further, the full House Appropriations Committee approved the funding on July 15th -- five days before the announcement -- and the full House of Representatives approved the funding July 18th -- two days before Acevedos "news" release of the Subcommittees approval!
White House Plans To Act On Puerto Ricos Status
According to a source close to the White House, statements there supported the past weeks public expectation of Puerto Rico Senator Miriam Ramirez de Ferrer (statehood/R) that the Bush Administration will soon address Puerto Ricos political status issue.
Ramirez first stated the expectation in a HERALD interview last week. She reiterated it in a follow-up interview with a Puerto Rico daily newspaper this week.
The candidate for the statehood partys congressional nomination also anticipated in the interviews that the White House action would favor Puerto Ricans choosing the territorys ultimate political status between the options of U.S. statehood and independence.
Such a policy would not really be news. It was articulated by the Administrations lead official on Puerto Rico issues, White House Intergovernmental Affairs Director Ruben Barrales, in a speech two years ago. The carefully-crafted remarks to a pro-statehood gathering have been the most illuminating that Barrales has made on the subject.
The Bush White House has taken some other action on the issue, however. The President made a minor amendment to an executive order that President Clinton issued on it. The order established a task force of White House and Cabinet officials to help resolve the issue by answering Puerto Rican questions and by working with the leaders of the territory and the Congress on it. The amendment merely delayed the date for the task forces initial report to the President by a few months.
In addition, interim members of the task force were named. Barrales was named lead Co-Chair of the task force.
White House and agency officials also began to consider the proposals of Puerto Ricos three political parties for the territorys future status. Each party represents a different vision for the status: statehood; independence; and unprecedented -- and impossible -- national government powers for the territory which the party advocating this calls "commonwealth." (The party also has some members who say they want Puerto Rico to be a true nation in an impermanent association with the United States)
The Bush Administrations initial review of the proposals led to the policy of supporting a choice between statehood and independence. (Puerto Rico would, presumably, remain a U.S. territory until the choice is made -- although this presumption is a big, unanswered question about the policy.)
Finally, the White House began to seek an extension of the availability of $2.5 million appropriated for (1) public education in the territory on aspects of the parties proposals agreed to by the presidential task force and (2) a Puerto Rican choice among the resulting options. The Congress had appropriated the funds at Clintons insistence but the availability of the money expired in late 2001.
The White House put the issue on the back burner, however, shortly after taking these actions two years ago. Puerto Rico Governor Sila Calderon ("commonwealth"/no national party) was responsible for the issue being dropped.
Calderon made it clear that she did not want local or federal action on the issue as well as not wanting the task force to function and the funds spent. She pressed the point through lobbyists such as Bush confidant Charlie Black, whose firm Calderon reportedly pays $100,000 per month.
She also sought to press it by supporting selected Republican political efforts in the States. The support came through campaign endorsements and financial contributions and a multi-million dollar drive to register residents of the States of Puerto Rican origin to vote in the States.
The governors efforts did not make Administration officials think that the issue was unimportant, however. It merely convinced them that investing substantial time on the issue would be futile.
In addition, they were apprehensive that there might be a political cost to proceeding over Calderons objections, particularly in Florida, which the President had barely won in being elected and where the Presidents brother was running for re-election as governor.
This question made them initially consign the issue to the potential agenda for the Presidents second-term. (They later learned, however, that Calderons political efforts in Florida -- where many people of Puerto Rican origin support statehood and which could again be pivotal in the election of the president -- were ineffective.)
Also contributing to the White House dropping the issue were three internal factors. One was that Barrales office had less staff than and was downgraded from its levels under Clinton. It also did not have a professional on territorial issues. The third factor was that Bush has not had the same interest in the issue as Clinton.
Ironically, Calderon has contributed to the determination of some Administration officials that the issue be addressed. She has done this by taking actions such as trying to negotiate international agreements without the approval of the U.S. Department of State. More importantly, she has stood by the status vision laid out in the platform on which she was elected and recently called for a Puerto Rican convention on the issue.
These federal officials understand that the main reason for the convention is to form a coalition between Calderons "commonwealthers" and nationalists who support real nationhood. Their concern increased when the "commonwealth" partys candidate to succeed Calderon, Resident Commissioner Acevedo Vila -- who led the development of the partys current status vision, generally embraced the convention plan.
The officials do not want the federal government put in the position of having to deny an impossible Puerto Rican status petition represented as the territorys majority self-determination will.
What the Administration will actually do is unclear. It has, however, worked further on the composition of the Presidents Task Force on Puerto Ricos Status.
And -- despite the intention and desire of some officials -- whether the Administration will actually take meaningful action on the issue during this term remains to be seen.
Puerto Rico Church Joining U.S. Churches Pleases Territorial Senator
One Puerto Rico senator at least was especially pleased when the Puerto Rico Episcopal Church was admitted into the Episcopal Church of the United States August 1st. Senate statehood party leader Kenneth McClintock Hernandez has successfully promoted Puerto Rican participation in national organizations of various kinds -- and become a leader in the organizations.
His efforts are consistent with his goal of full equality within the nation for Puerto Ricans.
But political philosophy was not the reason for his satisfaction on this occasion. McClintocks late father had voted against the Puerto Rico churchs autonomy from the national church as a delegate to the diocesan assembly in 1978. The senator voted for unification as a delegate this year.
The national churchs House of Bishops action this month joins Puerto Ricos 48 congregations and 30,000 members to the churches of their fellow U.S. citizens. This is expected to increase the Puerto Rico church opportunity to participate in overall Episcopal Church decisions and to assure greater care for retired clergy.
The "Washington Update" appears weekly.