Kerry Asks Dems To Adopt His Puerto Rico Policy… Fortuno Leads Effort Against Bush Puerto Rico Payroll Tax Refunds Cut… Latino Group Honors Puerto Rico Democracy Advocate… Kennedy Center Focuses Latin American Program On Puerto Rico

July 9, 2004
Copyright © 2004 THE PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.

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Kerry Asks Dems To Adopt His Puerto Rico Policy

The campaign of Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry has asked the Democratic Party to officially adopt the senator from Massachusetts’ Puerto Rico policy.

The request came in the form of proposed language for the party’s official Platform (the positions on which its candidates will seek election to office this November).

The platform is to be formally approved July 27th in Boston by the quadrennial Democratic National Convention. It is to be finalized by the Convention’s Platform Committee meeting this Saturday, July 10th in Miami, FL.

A Kerry campaign official this week said that the campaign has more than enough support on the committee to ensure that its position will be endorsed.

Its platform language reflects Kerry’s commitment to help enable Puerto Rico to choose and obtain a political status that is democratic at the national government level and compatible with the Constitution and basic policies of the U.S.

The options are independence, nationhood in a free (impermanent) association with the U.S., and U.S. statehood. Under the Kerry policy, the Commonwealth’s current status as a U.S. territory would continue until Puerto Rico attained one of the fully-democratic status options based on the choice of its electorate.

The Kerry policy also pledges to work for more equal treatment of Puerto Rico and other U.S. territories in federal programs. Currently, the territories are treated less well than the States in some federal programs -- primarily programs for the impoverished or the disabled. It was unclear at the time of this writing, however, whether the platform would also reflect Kerry’s commitment on these issues.

The Kerry proposal for the Democratic platform was one of three advanced on Puerto Rico issues. Language similar to Kerry’s on the territory’s democracy issue was drafted by Puerto Rico Representative Melinda Romero (statehood party/D), one of two Puerto Ricans on the 189-member Platform Committee. The other is Jose Hernandez, the "commonwealth" party’s initial choice for governor in this election. (Hernandez later withdrew from the race.)

Language that varied from Kerry’s policy was requested by the chairman of Puerto Rico’s Democratic committee, territorial Senator Roberto Prats, the "commonwealth" party’s candidate for resident commissioner (the territory’s non-voting representative in the U.S. House of Representatives). In addition to the recognized democratic status options of independence, free association, and U.S. statehood, Prats proposed that there be an option of "an fully democratic enhance Commonwealth" (sic).

Although Prats wrote that this unknown "status" would be "compatible" with the U.S. Constitution, federal officials have uniformly said party leader Anibal Acevedo’s proposal for such a status is not and that it is impossible, contradictory, and unwanted.

Prats’ proposal also sought to obtain national Democratic Party support for Acevedo’s planned "People’s Status Assembly" and for unexplained "fiscal tools" for the Commonwealth. The assembly is to ratify Acevedo’s status proposal so that he can try to force the federal government to accept it on the grounds that it represents the "self-determination" will of the Puerto Rican people, a suggestion also made in the Prats language. Acevedo has previously used the term "fiscal tools" to refer to federal tax exemptions for multinational drug companies and other large business operations.

Meanwhile, two leaders on the Puerto Rico democracy issue in the Congress this week joined others in applauding Kerry’s policy. Senator Bob Graham (D-FL), who had been on Kerry’s ‘short-list’ for vice president, said that he was "delighted to see that the next president" will continue initiatives to enable Puerto Rico to become a State or a nation and treat Puerto Ricans more equally "in programs that would benefit the half of the population below the poverty level, such as payroll tax refunds for low-income workers and health care."

Graham has sponsored such initiatives in the Senate and recalled that Kerry had sponsored his "bill to enable the Commonwealth to become a State or a nation. Now I am proud," he went on, "that our Party’s candidate has incorporated that goal into his program."

Representative Patrick Kennedy (D-RI) expressed appreciation for Kerry’s pledges to work for legislation that would enable Puerto Rico to attain statehood, independence, or nationhood in free association with the U.S., including the annual appropriation of funds for education and referenda on federally-agreed to status options.

Noting that his uncle, President John F. Kennedy, first assigned the president’s office special, direct responsibility for the Commonwealth’s issues, Kennedy said that Kerry would give Puerto Rico "the recognition and understanding that it deserves."

Fortuno Leads Effort Against Bush Puerto Rico Payroll Tax Refunds Cut

Puerto Rico Republican National Committeeman Luis Fortuno lobbied in Washington this week against President George Bush’s proposal to prevent Puerto Rican workers from receiving payroll tax refunds based on the number of children they have.

Fortuno, the statehood party’s candidate for resident commissioner, performed the role that one would have expected incumbent Resident Commissioner Acevedo to play. He had meetings at the White House and with senior members of the House of Representatives on the issue. Fortuno has an advantage in getting such meetings in that he is a Republican and the White House and the House of Representatives are controlled by Republicans.

Bush’s proposal would discontinue the granting of Social Security and Medicare tax refunds to Puerto Rican workers with families that have three children or more and incomes up to $110,000 a year. It also includes language to prevent the extension of the refunds to families with one child or two children.

Low-income workers (incomes up to $26,625 for a family of four) in the States and the District of Columbia also receive the refunds but Bush’s proposal would not end their refunds.

Bush’s proposal -- his most substantial regarding Puerto Rico -- takes the opposite approach to the issue from Kerry, his rival for the presidency. Kerry’s comprehensive Puerto Rico policy pledges him to try to extend the refunds to low-income workers in Puerto Rico with one child or two children.

The refunds are an adaptation of the Child Tax Credit that was proposed by President Clinton to benefit workers with incomes too low for them to have a federal income tax liability. The tax credit lowers the tax bill of middle-income workers who do have income tax liability. The refunds are equivalent in amount to the amount of the tax credit.

The U.S. Treasury Department has ‘justified’ the Bush Administration’s proposal by saying that it would simplify the tax refund forms for the nine million beneficiary families in the States and DC. The Congress’ Joint Committee on Taxation staff, however, has pointed out that the forms could be simplified without denying the refunds to Puerto Ricans.

The Congress’ tax experts have also estimated that the federal government would save some $2.1 billion over 10 years by discontinuing the refunds to Puerto Ricans.

Some 45,000 Puerto Ricans are expected to receive the refunds this year. An estimated 100,000 Puerto Ricans are eligible but most of these people have not filed the federal income tax forms required to obtain the refunds even though they owe no federal income tax.

Refunds last year were as high as $1,800 and averaged over $1,500. This year, they could reach $3,000.

Acevedo and his political mentor, Governor Sila Calderon ("commonwealth"/no national party), have also said that they will oppose the Bush proposal. They have made little, if any, effort to do so, however, saying that the proposal has no chance of passing the Congress.

A top Washington expert on the issue, however, says that the proposal could be approved this year. Robert Greenstein of the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities said that the proposal could be approved so that the Congress could use the $2.1 billion to pay for increases in the Child Credit or other tax cuts in the States and DC.

Acevedo and Calderon have been cool to the refunds because the refunds’ federal income tax form filing requirement conflicts with their (erroneous) claim regarding the Commonwealth’s "fiscal autonomy" from the federal government. They say that the federal government cannot impose any income tax requirements on Puerto Ricans (even though it has done so in other instances as well as this one).

In fact, the fiscal autonomy that Puerto Rico exercises on tax matters is similar to the fiscal autonomy that U.S. States possess. It is the power to enact local taxes.

Latino Group Honors Puerto Rico Democracy Advocate

The nation’s largest organization of Hispanic citizens, the League of United Latin American Citizens, honored one of Puerto Rico’s most outstanding advocates for democracy for the territory during its national convention in Texas this week.

The Latino civil rights group gave San Juan attorney Herbert Brown its Civil Rights Advocacy Award. Brown, a native of the territory is president of the Citizens Educational Foundation, the pre-eminent non-partisan group working to enable the territory to attain a permanent, fully-democratic political status without preference among the options for such a status.

LULAC’s president said that Brown had advanced the civil rights of four million U.S. citizens by increasing national awareness that Puerto Ricans lack democracy at the national government level. Brown has rallied support throughout the nation for democracy for Puerto Rico.

In accepting the award, Brown noted that LULAC "has been a stalwart supporter of self-determination for the U.S. citizens of Puerto Rico." He also said that he was "pleased that we are making significant progress towards . . . empowering the people of Puerto Rico to make a fair and informed decision regarding the islands’ ultimate status."

Kennedy Center Focuses Latin American Program On Puerto Rico

The national center for the performing arts, the John F. Kennedy Center, is dedicating this year’s two and a half week Latin American program to Puerto Rico artists. "The Spirit of Puerto Rico" performances will be held September 7-26.

The Center’s AmericArtes Festival was delayed this year from the originally-scheduled March.

The "Washington Update" appears weekly.

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