GOP To Promise More Than Dems On Status But Handicapped By Record… Doctor Dean Accepts Officially Rejected Vieques Fatal Illnesses Diagnoses… Enterprise Zone Investment Incentive Doesn’t Require Federal Taxation

August 6, 2004
Copyright © 2004 THE PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.

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GOP To Promise More Than Dems On Status But Handicapped By Record

Puerto Rico Republicans are working to have their national party’s platform take a stronger stand for a fully democratic status for the territory than the Democratic Party did at its quadrennial national convention the week before last.

The Democratic Platform pledges that Democrats in the White House and the Congress will clarify Puerto Rico’s status options and enable Puerto Ricans to choose the Commonwealth’s future status. Recognizing that Puerto Ricans do not have voting representation in their national government and that the territory’s ultimate status has not been determined, the Democratic policy states that islanders have a right to a "permanent and fully democratic status." It does not, however, say that they have to have such a status.

Puerto Rico Republican National Committeeman Luis Fortuno said this past week that the Republican Platform to be ratified at a national convention in three weeks would not include continued territorial status as an option.

Statehood and nationhood are Puerto Rico’s options for a fully democratic status. As a nation, Puerto Rico could either be freely (i.e., impermanently) associated with the United States in a power-sharing arrangement) or be fully independent.

The positions of both parties are not really new but they have become more important as both have recognized that their stance on the issue could affect the outcome of the 2004 presidential election. The reason is the growth in the number of people of Puerto Rican origin in Florida and the views of this population.

Florida may be the top prize in this year’s election as it was in 2000. An official estimate has calculated that the Florida Puerto Rican population has increased to 624,000 from 482,000 in 2000. Multiple, independent surveys indicate that this population is particularly open to statehood for the territory -- especially its new migrants from Puerto Rico -- and many of those who do not favor statehood favor nationhood.

Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry is better positioned to win Florida’s Puerto Rican vote than Republican incumbent George Bush despite GOP plans for a stronger promise of full democracy. ?????

  • Kerry has sponsored legislation to enable Puerto Ricans to choose whether the territory will become a State of the U.S. or a nation.
  • The Senate’s Republican leaders at the time blocked the bill.
  • Bush failed to spend $2.5 million appropriated to his office to enable Puerto Ricans to choose among presidentially-approved status options.
  • Bush has twice delayed the reporting deadline of the President’s Task Force on Puerto Rico’s Status.
  • Kerry has put forth a specific and strong plan for resolving the issue.
  • Kerry’s plan for resolving the issue is stronger than his party’s platform language -- and what Bush’s party’s platform is likely to state.
  • But Kerry would not exclude a continuation of the status quo as long as Puerto Ricans do not. Not excluding a continuation until Puerto Ricans choose Statehood or nationhood will prevent Kerry from losing the support of the pro-"commonwealth" minority in Florida that is likely to support him on other issues.

Statehood support is particularly strong among the ‘up-for-grabs’ vote among Puerto Ricans in Florida. Many are middle-class, highly-educated recent migrants from the territory.

As the incumbent, Bush will be primarily judged on the issue based on his record -- a negative one. And a Puerto Rico Status Task Force source told UPDATE this past week that the Task Force still should not be expected to take any action this year to help resolve the issue.

The source also said that the Bush Administration itself has not excluded continued territory status as an option for the Commonwealth’s future status.

The source’s statements help explain the temperate words of Task Force head Ruben Barrales at a statehood celebration in Puerto Rico July 27th. Barrales said that Puerto Rico would be better off with a "permanent" relationship with the United States. He suggested -- but did not clearly state -- the fact that Statehood is the only option for such a status under the Constitution of the United States.

Barrales’ limited statements contrasted with those he made at the same celebration three years before. On that occasion, he said that Bush supports Puerto Ricans choosing the territory’s ultimate status between Statehood and nationhood. Barrales is Bush’s chief liaison to State, territory, and local governments.

Barrales’ statements this year also did not conflict with the position of "commonwealth" party gubernatorial candidate Anibal Acevedo, Puerto Rico’s resident commissioner in Washington, and Governor Sila Calderon, Acevedo’s mentor in the party. They contend that "commonwealth" can be a permanent union with the U.S. The Commonwealth would have the powers to determine the application of federal laws and to enter into arrangements with other countries while the U.S. continues to grant citizenship to individuals born in Puerto Rico and all aid currently provided Puerto Ricans.

The Bush Administration has declined to rule out such an arrangement, although it has been previously judged by federal officials as impossible as well as unwanted. Instead, Barrales has said that the proposal is being reconsidered and that the Task Force may not take a position on it until next year.

Puerto Rico’s current status, unincorporated territory, cannot be considered permanent because it is not democratic at the national government level and all people have a continuing right to a fully democratic form of government.

Another Barrales statement at the statehood celebration this year echoed a repeated refrain of Calderon and Acevedo on the issue: The status "process must begin with the Puerto Rican people."

Although all three of Puerto Rico’s status-based political parties are running on platforms that would have action on the issue begin next year in Puerto Rico rather than in Washington, there is an important difference between Acevedo’s version and that of the statehood and Independence parties.

Acevedo’s plan calls for Puerto Ricans to propose his unprecedented governing arrangement to the federal government through a "People’s Status Assembly" before the national government takes any action on the issue. He wants to use an elected convention’s endorsement of the proposal to overcome federal constitutional and policy objections, arguing that it represents the ‘self-determination will’ of the Puerto Rican people that cannot be denied after more than a century without full democracy under the flag of the world’s greatest democracy.

The Independence Party has proposed a similar convention. In its conception, however, the convention would negotiate a new status with the federal government rather than try to simply force federal acceptance. The statehood party has proposed a referendum next year to petition the federal government for Puerto Rico’s status options other than remaining a U.S. territory.

Acevedo and Calderon’s chief lobbyist in Washington, Bush political advisor Charlie Black, have successfully lobbied the Bush Administration to not act on the issue to facilitate Acevedo’s plan to pressure the federal government.

Calderon, one of a number of "commonwealth" party leaders who have declined to support either national political party, has said that Bush should have a strong appeal to Puerto Ricans in the States. Acevedo, a Democrat, has, at times, been critical of Kerry. He also declined to go to the Democratic convention that nominated Kerry even though he was a delegate. His chief rival for the governorship, Statehood party former Governor Pedro Rossello, is a strong national Democrat, but he was not a delegate to the convention.

Doctor Dean Accepts Officially Rejected Vieques Fatal Illnesses Diagnoses

Failed Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean wrote this past week that contamination from the now-closed Navy training range on the island of Vieques, PR has killed island residents and is making more sick.

Dean is a medical doctor who expressed support for statehood for Puerto Rico before agreeing not to in return for political support from "commonwealth" party gubernatorial candidate Acevedo. His ‘op-ed’ repeated claims from political activists that major federal studies have repeatedly rejected.

The claims include cancer fatalities and exceptionally high rates of diseases including heart ailments and diabetes. They also assert that federal as well as activist studies have "proven" the serious contamination of residential areas and food sources by metals and poisons.

Dean argued for addressing the "health crisis" and for a greater clean up from military activity on Vieques than the tens of millions of dollars now being spent.

Governor Calderon’s claims of heart disease and cancer due to the training led to the federal studies. Calderon has since exercised the territory’s right to name one federal ‘Superfund’ clean up site by naming the islands of Vieques and Culebra. Military training was also conducted on portions of Culebra before it was all shifted to the Vieques range over a quarter of a century ago. In addition to the one Superfund site designated by each State and territory, Superfund sites are determined by environmental analyses and health risk priorities.

Federal ratification of Calderon’s designation of Vieques as a Superfund site has been delayed for months the inclusion of Culebra in the site. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which has had the primary objection to the inclusion, reluctantly withdrew it a couple of weeks ago. This past week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency published the proposed site designation for public comment. Final action on the designation will occur after a 60-day comment period.

Enterprise Zone Investment Incentive Doesn’t Require Federal Taxation

"Commonwealth" party resident commissioner candidate Roberto Prats misled Puerto Ricans when he claimed that statehood party rival Fortuno’s proposal that Enterprise Zone benefits be extended to Puerto Rico would require full federal taxation and U.S. Statehood for the territory and end its ‘fiscal autonomy.’

Fortuno made the proposal in supporting legislation now in the Congress that would revamp the Enterprise Zones program. The bill would extend the program to Puerto Rico. Under it, businesses get federal income tax breaks for job-creating investments in low-income areas.

The bill would also give businesses and individuals in Puerto Rico who already have a federal income tax liability the choice between existing federal income tax rates and a simplified, lower-rate tax structure that the territorial government would have some jurisdiction over. The bill would not, however, in and of itself extend further federal income taxation to the territory.

The federal government has not extended most federal income taxation to Puerto Rico. Currently, only two types of income are taxed: Islanders pay tax on their income from the States and companies based in the States pay tax on their income from the territory.

Puerto Rico’s ’fiscal autonomy,’ like that of the States and other territories, is the ability to impose local taxes and not an exemption from federal taxation – which would be unconstitutional.

Businesses based in the States would be able to get federal tax breaks for job-creating investments in Puerto Rico under the Enterprise Zones program if it is simply extended to Puerto Rico without being changed otherwise.

The idea of using the existing program to replace the tax benefits for investments in Puerto Rico now provided by sections 30A and 936 of the Internal Revenue Code that expire at the end of next year has been raised in Washington by Democrats as well as Fortuno and the Republican sponsors of the bill he supported. Prats’ candidate for president of the U.S., Senator Kerry (MA), noted that the current investment incentives will end and that "important national programs focused on job creation and economic growth" including the Enterprise Zones program have not been extended in pledging to "build upon" his record of "proposing incentives for economic activity based on actual contributions to Puerto Rico."

The highest-ranking Democrat on the U.S. Senate Finance Committee, Max Baucus (MT), was one of those who asked the Congress’ General Accounting Office and Joint Committee on Taxation to consider the extension of the Enterprise Zone investment incentive to Puerto Rico in the agencies’ comprehensive studies of federal Puerto Rico economic issues that is being done this year.

The "Washington Update" appears weekly.

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