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Fortuño Says He Can Deliver In Washington

Strong Republican ties will give him an edge in what he predicts will be a GOP-controlled Congress

WOW News Editor

October 23, 2003
Copyright © 2003 CARIBBEAN BUSINESS. All Rights Reserved.

Name: Luis Fortuño

Birthdate: Oct. 31, 1960 in San Juan

Education: Bachelor’s degree in foreign service from Georgetown University; Juris Doctor from University of Virginia Law School

Professional experience: Attorney in private practice; former Tourism Co. executive director; former Economic Development & Commerce secretary; served as second vice president of the Republican Party in Puerto Rico; currently national committeeman

Marital status: Married to attorney Luce Vela; father of 11-year-old triplets: Luis Roberto, Guillermo, and Maria Luisa

At 43, Luis Fortuño is the youngest of the four candidates for resident commissioner. Although this is his first run at a political post, the former Economic Development & Commerce secretary thinks he has what it takes to do the job.

Moreover, he says his contacts on Capitol Hill, cultivated over 25 years of studying, working, and traveling between Puerto Rico and Washington, are a tremendous asset.

"I do have the experience," Fortuño told CARIBBEAN BUSINESS. "I can walk through the halls of Congress and deliver."

Like former Gov. Pedro Rossello (CB Oct. 16), Fortuño believes the U.S. Congress will remain in control of the Republican Party after the 2004 general elections, which would make him better able to serve as resident commissioner than any of his contenders.

Fortuño was a delegate to the 1996 National Republican Party convention. In 2001, he was elected second vice chairman of the Republican Party in Puerto Rico. He then became the Republican Party’s national committeeman for Puerto Rico.

Fortuño believes his experience with the Republican Party helped him obtain the endorsement of the present Republican leadership. Yet when asked why it took him so long to join the race for resident commissioner, Fortuño responds that it was because he isn’t a career politician.

Like his contenders, Fortuño says part of the reason he chose to run was his desire to correct the erroneous perception of Puerto Rico that many in Congress and in the rest of the country have developed as a result of the policies of the Calderon administration.

"As I see it, Puerto Rico’s image has been tarnished because of the policies of the current administration," he said. "I want to return to the [resident commissioner] position the standing it should have."

While his contenders pin Puerto Rico’s economic development hopes on the concept of federal enterprise zones, Fortuño supports them but warns of their limited applicability. "It’s simple during the campaign to say that we’ll establish enterprise zones, but they don’t work out that well unless you make changes. For example, their federal tax-exemption benefits are irrelevant for companies in Puerto Rico that wouldn’t have federal income tax anyway," Fortuño said.

Fortuño says a good starting point for an economic development plan would be extending the benefits of Internal Revenue Code Section 30A. "Whatever we do, the alternative should at least maintain Puerto Rico within the political and tax framework of the U.S.," he said. "It is a wrong policy to try to separate Puerto Rico and make us different. That creates not only economic repercussions but also political repercussions that destabilize our political climate."

Fortuño believes the incentive should also be tied to job creation in Puerto Rico. In addition, the island must follow the trends of international commerce and ensure the protection of certain local products and services.

The corporate attorney insists on negotiating next to the U.S. rather than with it, as Gov. Sila Calderon administration was seeking while lobbying in favor of Internal Revenue Code Section 956.

"I’d rather sit at the negotiating table next to the 900-pound gorilla than go it alone," Fortuño said.

He acknowledges that a great part of the resident commissioner’s job is to obtain federal funds for Puerto Rico. If elected, Fortuño would lobby for funding for infrastructure and flood-control projects. He would also seek what he calls traditional federal funding in Medicare and Medicaid.

Fortuño seems to have included in his platform some of Pedro Rossello’s gubernatorial-campaign promises. One is to seek funds to extend the Urban Train to San Juan, Toa Baja, Toa Alta, and Caguas. Fortuño also thinks the federal government should help transform Roosevelt Roads into a transshipment port, which would be a tremendous opportunity to generate jobs.

When all is said and done, Fortuño believes statehood is Puerto Rico’s best bet for economic development. He supports holding a referendum through which the people can say whether they want Congress to give Puerto Rico an opportunity to decide its future. Rossello also proposes such a referendum.

This Caribbean Business article appears courtesy of Casiano Communications.
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