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Gubernatorial Candidates Shy Away From Manufacturers’ Proposals

Presentations emphasize views expected to appear in parties’ political platforms


June 10, 2004
Copyright © 2004 CARIBBEAN BUSINESS. All Rights Reserved.

When the Puerto Rico Manufacturers Association (PRMA) invited the island’s three political party gubernatorial candidates to its annual convention, the organization expected them to offer specific suggestions regarding PRMA proposals on incentives, education, labor, and technology.

What participants at the PRMA forum on economic development got from the New Progressive Party’s (NPP) Pedro Rossello, Popular Democratic Party’s (PDP) Anibal Acevedo Vila, and Independence Party’s Ruben Berrios were pro-forma speeches about the parties’ general political platforms and, excepting one or two specific issues, a lack of commitment to the organization’s proposals.

One measure all three candidates said they wouldn’t support was the designation of an Education Department secretary for a 10-year term as proposed by the PRMA. Among the reasons for this stance were the supposed inability of the executive branch to work with an Education secretary from a different political party—in the event that that occurred—and the people’s right to elect governors based on their views on where education should be directed. In addition, all three supported the earnings-incentive tax credit for families earning up to $15,000 a year.

NPP’S Pedro Rossello

Rossello, who was the first to speak, framed his presentation around what was happening worldwide. "There is a worldwide transition to a global level, and from an industrial society to a knowledge-based society. [Puerto Rico must adopt] the theme of minds to work (mentes a la obra), leaving behind the theme of industrialization, hands to work (manos a la obra)."

In education, Rossello proposed the establishment of integrated early education centers for children from birth to four years old; turning prekindergarten into a requirement of the education curriculum; designing community educational centers to provide adult continuing-education programs; and building more schools.

Regarding flexitime, Rossello said, "I am in favor [of flexitime] and it would benefit the island’s economic sector and the work force. But this requires a dialogue to develop public policy."

As to economic incentives, Rossello said, "Studies indicate there are factors that have to take priority for us to become competitive other than incentives in areas such as infrastructure, water, energy, and communications. Investors are looking for knowledge-based skills. I support the federal earnings-incentive tax credit for families earning up to $15,000 [a year]. Puerto Rico can also be included in federal business zones programs such as the Small Business Development Administration. And we can still promote Internal Revenue Service Section 30A."

When Rossello was asked what his priority would be during his first 90 days as governor if he were elected, he said all the NPP political platform initiatives would be implemented within the first 10 days. Said Rossello, "We must establish an atmosphere, a vision, and an attitude from the beginning. In the past four years, there has been a paralysis of vision in Puerto Rico. A great part of recovering that vision is to have clear instructions and parameters."

PDP’s Anibal Acevedo Vila

Acevedo Vila advocated four main points as part of his economic revolution to promote a modern and prosperous industry in Puerto Rico. "Puerto Rico’s economic development is divided in two eras. The first was made up of former governors Luis Muñoz Marin, Roberto Sanchez Vilella, and Luis A. Ferre, who resolved some of the island’s greatest problems. During the second era, Govs. Rafael Hernandez Colon, Carlos Romero Barcelo, Pedro Rossello, and Sila Calderon have had to deal with the modernization of Puerto Rico. Now, it is the turn of a new generation, such as mine, to create a better society and deal with this generation’s problems."

Acevedo Vila’s suggestions for economic development include increasing support to local businesses by ruling that government agencies must buy 15% of their goods and services; improving the government’s accounts payable process; promoting the purchase of local goods and services by the federal government; extending the express-permit centers to other regions on the island; and creating a venture capital fund for the creation of small and midsize businesses with special attention paid to high technology.

Other proposals include expanding the economy though exports and the R2D2 proposal (meaning collaboration between government and academia on Research & Development), which promoted the investment of $1 billion in private, public, and federal funds in R&D and the establishment of a local National Science Foundation. As to education, Acevedo Vila proposed revising science and mathematics curriculums and doubling the number of teachers in these disciplines, as well as English.

Independence Party’s Ruben Berrios

Berrios emphasized the need to nurture an entrepreneurial spirit beginning in kindergarten through high school. In addition, he proposed the island’s insertion in multimarkets to achieve an accessible, sustainable economy. "The advantage of small countries is that they can compete in the global economy without the costs of a larger country’s bureaucratic measures. Nine out of 10 of the fastest-growing economies have fewer than nine million residents."

Berrios also proposed the creation of new legislative measures that not only would attract foreign investment but also take advantage of their resources. "Puerto Rico is afraid to change its old ways of doing business," said Berrios. "We don’t have access to major markets because of Jones Act restrictions, so we don’t [change laws] and do what is necessary to improve the future, today. We vote and change the ‘reds’ for the ‘blues’ and things remain the same."

Berrios also warned about the establishment of part-time legislators, saying it could create conflicts of interest when they voted for economic measures. "How can a legislator make good decisions if he or she is bound to interests outside the Legislature? What is needed is for the voters to choose better legislators!"

This Caribbean Business article appears courtesy of Casiano Communications.
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