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Fortuño Will Use GOP Connections To Benefit P.R.

Will seek greater federal funding under programs such as Medicare and urban train to Caguas


November 11, 2004
Copyright © 2004 CARIBBEAN BUSINESS. All Rights Reserved.

Editor’s note: CARIBBEAN BUSINESS requested an interview with Popular Democratic Party President Anibal Acevedo Vila, but at press time Monday, he hadn’t made himself available.

Likely Resident Commissioner-elect Luis G. Fortuño of the New Progressive Party said he is ready to use his connections to well-placed Republicans in the White House and the U.S. Congress to get Puerto Rico larger federal allocations under existing programs and to include the island in new projects that will support economic development.

"I am still hopeful former Gov. Pedro Rossello will be elected governor. Should that not be the case, the people of Puerto Rico can rest assured I will work, as I always have, with members of other parties, including Anibal Acevedo Vila," said Fortuño. Last week, Acevedo Vila of the Popular Democratic Party was preliminarily certified as the winner of the gubernatorial election, subject to a recount because of the close margin.

"As most people know, I was very much involved in President George W. Bush’s re-election campaign," said Fortuño, who has been national committeeman for the Republican Party of Puerto Rico since 2001. He was a spokesman throughout the presidential campaign, doing interviews mostly targeted at Hispanics and most visible during the Republican and Democratic national conventions.

"I also visited Orlando with the president’s brother, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush; New York Gov. George Pataki; Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, who is the former Republican Party chairman; and Congressman Tom Feeney from Orlando," said Fortuño. There are some 600,000 Puerto Ricans in Central Florida, 40% of whom had usually voted Republican. Fortuño said he helped to give the Republican Party a record 55% of the Puerto Rican vote this year.

Many among the congressional leadership—including House Speaker Dennis Hastert and Majority Leader Tom DeLay—and in the White House followed Fortuño’s race closely and have called to congratulate him. Hastert and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist endorsed him, as did Sen.-elect Mel Martinez from Florida, who has become a close friend.

"For the first time, there will be a Republican resident commissioner, and I will be joining the Republican Conference," said Fortuño. "Given the larger Republican majorities in the House and Senate, these relationships will allow me to influence legislation relating to Puerto Rico more effectively," added the boyish-looking 44-year-old.

Fortuño has several initiatives he wants to push forward in Congress during his four-year term as resident commissioner, including seeking greater allocations to Puerto Rico under federal programs such as Medicare. Following are some of his priorities:

  • Medicare: Fortuño wants a reimbursement formula that covers 50% of national costs and 50% of local costs, which would mean an additional $34 million a year for Puerto Rico. "This would allow hospitals to invest in new equipment and retain professional help, including nurses," he said.
  • Medicaid: Fortuño wants to raise the island’s cap, which is slightly more than $200 million annually.
  • Crime prevention & drug interdiction: "I will be fighting for a greater allocation to stop the introduction of drugs to the island and provide funding for state and municipal police," said Fortuño.
  • Infrastructure: Fortuño will seek more federal funds for projects involving the island’s water and sewerage systems, flood prevention, and ground and maritime transportation. "The extension of the Urban Train outside the San Juan metro area will be my focus, and I look forward to working with Caguas Mayor William Miranda Marin and other mayors throughout the island on funding for their infrastructure projects," said Fortuño.
  • Enterprise zones: "I will try to include Puerto Rico in this new legislation that would offer incentives to companies that invest in new equipment, machinery, and inventory in the designated zones and provide a lower tax rate on income to those companies," said Fortuño.
  • Economic development: "Unfortunately, Puerto Rico was left out of the comprehensive tax bill approved last month. Should there be a technical amendment, I will try my best to include Puerto Rico," said Fortuño.
  • Community- and faith-based initiatives: "This was a pillar of my campaign, and I will do my utmost to assist the myriad nongovernmental organizations that are doing such a wonderful social job throughout the island," said Fortuño.
  • National parks: "I have some initiatives related to U.S. national parks in Puerto Rico that I will be pushing in Congress," said Fortuño.

Fortuño and his wife, Luce Vela, are looking forward to joining other new members of Congress in Washington next week for orientation. "I will be meeting with members of the White House staff, congressional leaders, and other members of Congress.

"During the next two months, I will focus on the transition of the resident commissioner’s offices [in Puerto Rico and Washington], including hiring the staff, and congressional committee assignments," said Fortuño, who initially will be living alone in a small apartment in Washington. Once that process is completed, his wife will join him in Washington so they can look for schools for the kids and a house.

This Caribbean Business article appears courtesy of Casiano Communications.
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