SELF-DETERMINATION WILL REDUCE THE $13 BILLION ANNUAL FEDERAL SUBSIDY OF PUERTO RICO TERRITORIAL COMMONWEALTH
The Economic and Fiscal Dimensions
J. Tomas Hexner
J. Tomas Hexner is the Chairman of Hex, Inc. Glenn Jenkins is the Director of the International Tax Program at Harvard Law School and Fellow of the Harvard Institute for International Development.
Prepared for the Citizens Educational Foundation
CopyrightÓ 1998 Citizens Educational Foundation.
All rights reserved. No part of this report may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means including information storage and retrieval systems without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages for review.
Table of Contents
I. Principal Findings
IV. Puerto Rico and Modern Economic Growth Analysis
V. The Fiscal Costs of Commonwealth for the United States
VI. The Fiscal Impact of Statehood
VII. Realizing Potential for Growth through Economic Reform
VIII. The Effect of Statehood on Investment in Puerto Rico
Appendix I: Correcting the 1990 CBO Report
Appendix II: Recent Developments in Puerto Rico
1 Investment as a Share of GDP in Puerto Rico 9
2 Hawaiian Personal Income 18
3 Puerto Ricoís Economic Performance Relative to the United States 20
3a Puerto Rico and the U.S. Convergence Frontier 21
4 Per Capita Income in Puerto Rico: Two Stories 22
5 Projected Economic Benefits from Statehood, 1994 to 2025 24
6 Net Fiscal Impact of Statehood on the Federal Budget, 1995 32
7 Net Fiscal Impact of Statehood on Puerto Rico, 1995 34
1 Benefits of Statehood Assuming 3.5% Convergence Rate 23
2 Current Costs of Commonwealth to the U.S. Treasury 27
3 Potential Increased Federal Transfers to Puerto under Statehood 30
4 Net Impact of Statehood on the Federal Budget, 1995 31
5 Estimate of Net Impact of Statehood on Puerto Rico, 1995 33
This paper attempts to present an analysis of the economic and fiscal dimensions of Puerto Rican status. The status debate in Puerto Rico has, historically, been heavily concentrated in political analysis of the status options: commonwealth, statehood and independence. Because commonwealth and statehood together comprised approximately 95 percent of the popular vote in the most recent status plebiscite on the island, leaving only 5 percent of the vote to independence, we will focus on the costs and benefits of the first two status options only.
The documentís key conclusion is that status has fundamental economic and fiscal implications for the island and for the United States. Statehood would stimulate greater investment and more rapid economic growth through full integration with the U.S. economy and a more stable investment climate. Further, statehood would actually have been a net benefit over commonwealth for the U.S. Treasury. From a strategic perspective, statehood would eliminate the possibility of additional costly and ineffective subsidies and tax breaks which would continue to drain the U.S. Treasury.
Section III defines Puerto Rican status in relation to the United States and describes the economic history of the island from World War II to the present. Although economics and politics can never be separated, the discussion here leaves analyses of a more political or cultural nature for another forum.
We observe that Puerto Rico under commonwealth status has not been a model of economic development, but has stagnated since the 1970ís. In section IV, we apply modern economic growth analysis to demonstrate that statehood alone would spur faster growth through full integration with the U.S. economy. We point out that commonwealth status, in addition to promoting dependence - oriented development, has kept Puerto Rico from catching up with the rest of the U.S.
In sections V and VI, we analyze the fiscal implications of status. Section V reviews the current costs of commonwealth. Section VI then focuses on the fiscal impact of statehood from the perspective of the U.S. Treasury and Puerto Rico as a whole. We find that statehood would actually have been a net benefit to the U.S. Treasury, by imposing income taxes on firms and individuals who previously had not paid. Puerto Rico and U.S. citizens living there would benefit from statehood through increased federal transfers and being brought into equality with counterparts on the mainland. Additional transfers to Puerto Rico under statehood would have been outweighed by increased tax revenues.
In section VII, we contend that modest policy initiatives based on the successes of rapidly expanding developing economies would lead unleash Puerto Ricoís economic potential. A computable general equilibrium (CGE) indicates that the Puerto Rican economy has significant potential for growth which previous policies have failed to realize. We note that statehood would create added incentive for these needed reforms and force a move away from a harmful dependency mentality. Further, the status issue dominates politics in Puerto Rico, and we contend that no significant and permanent economic reform can take place without its definitive resolution.
In section VIII, we maintain that statehood would have a significant impact on investment in Puerto Rico. Statehood would eliminate Puerto Ricoís nebulous and uncertain political status which will continue to hinder investment in a future of increasing globalization. Statehood would clearly define Puerto Rico as a ìdomesticî rather than ìforeignî location in the eyes of investors, and distinguish it from other developing countries in the region as competition for investment intensifies. In conclusion, section IX reviews our key findings regarding the fiscal and economic dimensions of Puerto Rico.
Appendix I provides a critique of the Congressional Budget Officeís flawed 1990 study of the impact of statehood on Puerto Rico. Appendix II reviews economic and policy developments in Puerto Rico over the past few years.
Puerto Rico became an unincorporated territory of the United States in 1898 at the end of the Spanish-American War. An unincorporated territory is one to which all provisions of the Constitution had not been expressly extended. In 1952, the island became one of three ìcommonwealthî territories in recent U.S. history. The Philippines and Northern Marianas were also given ìcommonwealth statusî as territories.
Commonwealth status has involved self-government in internal affairs for Puerto Rico, although the U.S Congress retains full authority to determine the status of the territory and apply federal law as it deems appropriate. In the Jones Act of 1917, Puerto Ricans became citizens of the United States. While they are U.S. citizens, Puerto Ricans cannot participate in U.S. elections. They have no vote in presidential elections and their representative in the Congress is a Resident Commissioner with a voice, but no vote.
As a territory of the United States, Puerto Rico operates under the U.S. judicial, monetary, and tariff systems, and is profoundly affected by, yet largely excluded from, the U.S. income tax system. Puerto Ricans do not pay federal income tax, and corporations based in Puerto Rico do not pay federal corporate tax. Commonwealth status implies that, like any U.S. state, important determinations can be made by Puerto Ricoís local legislature though many vital decisions, particularly concerning the economy, remain with the U.S. Congress. For instance, the operation of educational institutions and the election of a Governor are under local Puerto Rican jurisdiction, but federal tax credits and federal transfers are under the domain of the U.S. Congress, in which Puerto Rico has no vote.
Discussions of Puerto Ricoís political status have involved two options in addition to commonwealth: independence and statehood. Under independence, Puerto Rico would become a fully sovereign nation with jurisdiction over its internal affairs and external relations. Independence would involve a termination of U.S. citizenship for persons born in a new Puerto Rican nation, and an election between U.S. or Puerto Rican citizenship for those now living. Under statehood, Puerto Rico would become the 51st state of the Union and would be subject to the same statutes as current U.S. states, with birthright citizenship for Puerto Rican residents. The transition to statehood would have to be defined through both Congressional and Puerto Rican legislation. Statehood would extend all constitutional guarantees to Puerto Ricans, as well as the right to vote in federal elections and the obligation to pay federal income taxes.
Puerto Ricans have recently had the opportunity to express their preferences for the islandís status through popular plebiscites. In 1967, commonwealth won 60 percent of the vote and statehood 39%, although low voter turn-out and a boycott by some supporters of the independence and statehood options may have underestimated support for statehood. The most recent plebiscite was held in November of 1993 when commonwealth won 48 percent of the vote and statehood garnered 46 percent. As these statistics indicate, popular support for each of the status options has varied across time, although showing an increasing trend towards statehood.
B. A History of ìNew Deal,î Government-Led Development
Understanding the current economic dynamics in Puerto Rico requires some knowledge of the islandís post WWII history. In 1950, Puerto Rico had just come through a decade of agricultural primacy in its economy and ìOperation Bootstrapî was in full gear. ìOperation Bootstrapî was a new economic development strategy for Puerto Rico which focused on ìthe promotion of direct private capital investment and the establishment of private manufacturing enterprises for export to the U.S.î Under ìOperation Bootstrap,î the focus of development was on external, mainly U.S., investment that would, it was hoped, stimulate Puerto Ricoís economy, increase employment and boost personal incomes.
Consistent with the development strategies of this time, it was thought that Puerto Ricoís public sector should lead and support its private sector. Thus, Puerto Ricoís economic strategy in the 1950ís was based on the creation of government development agencies and a public sector with broad jurisdiction over goods and services typically provided by the private sector in more developed countries. First, the government development agency Fomento (meaning ìpromotionî in Spanish) actively recruited industry to locate in Puerto Rico. Fomento used the incentives of inexpensive labor, industrial parks, and tax incentives from the U.S. to attract manufacturing firms. Fomento was quite successful in effecting the type of centralized planning advocated by 1950ís and 1960ís development economics.
Second, public corporations were allowed to develop and serve government and quasi-government functions with greater financing and management flexibility than traditional government agencies. Most public corporations were intended to collect some of their operating expenses from charges for their services and products, although public corporations have indeed relied upon Puerto Ricoís general fund for appropriations.
Puerto Rico's economy experienced healthy growth during this transition from an agriculture-based economy to a manufacturing-based economy. Between 1950 and 1958, Puerto Rico experienced a 4.6 percent average annual growth rate in real GNP. From 1959 to 1974, real GNP expanded at an average annual rate of 6.5 percent. Productivity, measured by average real GDP per person employed, grew at 5.6 percent between 1950 and 1958, then by 5.2 percent between 1959 and 1974. The island was perceived to be a development success.
The record of economic performance did not continue, although its reputation as a model for development persisted. For all intents and purposes, Puerto Rico has continued under the ìOperation Bootstrapî mode of development to the present. As economies around the world grew and began applying new lessons, development policy for Puerto Rico continued to rely on government-led initiatives. That is, even after other countries had learned that private sector-driven, market-based economies produced deeper and more sustainable growth, Puerto Rico continued in the ìNew Dealî tradition. If anything, the Puerto Rican government intruded even further into the economy, adopting a concerted program of government intervention which included the take-over of the telephone company, a shipping line, and the creation of a centralized purchasing entity.
In retrospect, Puerto Ricoís economic development strategy appears to have been blind to reality. Low labor costs were no longer an incentive to invest in Puerto Rico. Public sector corporations thoughout the world proved mediocre performers at best. Finally, the reliance on, and hope for, federal tax incentives generated a corporate welfare dependence which still exists today.
From the mid-1970s, Puerto Ricoís economy began to experience stagnation, in striking contrast to the growth of the previous two decades. Real GNP growth, for example, slowed to an annual rate of only 1.7 percent between 1975 and 1984. While the U.S. recovered from the oil shock in 1973, Puerto Rico did not. Further, Puerto Rico stopped converging with the U.S. and began to converge with the developing economies of Latin America and the Caribbean. In Section IV it is observed that Puerto Ricoís commonwealth status hindered growth and kept it from converging with the U.S. economy.
Investment in the Puerto Rican economy also dropped sharply during the early 1970ís, as measured in the investment share of GDP. While it was hoped that domestic capital would replace the initial burst of external investment encouraged by ìOperation Bootstrap,î the domestic replacement never materialized and the commonwealth came to rely on tax induced, external investment. Figure 1 indicates that investment dropped from 29% of GDP during the period 1955 to 1972, to 14% in 1994.
Although the island seemed a successful example of economic development in the first phase of its transition, the Puerto Rican economy in the 1970ís and 1980ís languished with low growth rates and unemployment rates ranging from 10 to over 22 percent. It became clear that the development strategy which had worked for Puerto Rico in the 1950ís was no longer effective in the 1970ís. As slow growth persisted through the 1970ís, 1980ís and into the 1990ís, the islandís continued reliance on an outdated development model adopted in the 1950ís became even more obviously inadequate.
Over time, private sector capacity indeed developed on the island with the establishment of sophisticated financial institutions, world-class hotels, and a mature services sector. Many of the public corporations and government development agencies, which had originally been charged with the provision of goods and services, had become superfluous with the growth of the private sector. The Puerto Rican government apparatus, it seemed, had stepped over the line from being a facilitator of growth to an impediment to growth.
Nevertheless, largely because Puerto Ricoís economy receives limited exposure on the mainland, its 1950ís reputation as a model for stimulating and achieving economic growth continued in the minds of most Americans. This reputation has been reinforced by the lobbying efforts of major electronics and pharmaceutical corporations, who have benefited from costly tax breaks for U.S. companies operating on the island.
Puerto Rican economic success looks good when it is compared with other Caribbean islands and Latin America, instead of with the fifty states. Indeed, in comparison with these countries, Puerto Rico has been economically vibrant. Of 22 Latin American and Caribbean countries on which the World Bank reported data, Puerto Ricoís per capita GNP of $3479 ranked third in 1980. Its real annual growth rate in GNP between 1960 and 1970 of 3.7 percent also ranked third highest among these countries. However, Puerto Ricoís GDP growth rate during 1970-1980 dropped to almost half its level during 1960-1970; during the period 1970 to 1980, eleven Latin American and Caribbean countries outperformed Puerto Rico.
It must be remembered, however, that the residents of Puerto Rico are US citizens with rights to unrestricted travel to and from the mainland, and the economy of Puerto Rico is virtually integrated with the United States. Accordingly, Puerto Ricoís economic performance should be compared with the 50 U.S. states rather than with the economies of the Caribbean and Latin America, or with any other developing nation. The result of the Puerto Rico-United States comparison reveals the paucity of economic progress on the island. The islandís 1995 per capita personal income of $7296 was less than half of Mississippiís, the poorest U.S. state, with per capita personal income of $18,352 in the same year.
To appreciate the sensitivity of the Puerto Rican economy to the U.S. Congress and federal agencies, the reader should be aware of the tax breaks provided to U.S. corporations under Section 936 of the Internal Revenue Code and the 1990 Congressional Budget Office report, which are described below.
C. Section 936 Tax Credits
Tax incentives played a central role in the original post-World War II development of Puerto Rico. The tax subsidy found in Section 936 of the federal Internal Revenue Code has been in effect on the island, in some form, since 1921, though its significance as a development tool increased in the post-war period. Section 936 and its forerunners have largely exempted U.S. corporations from paying federal tax on income earned by their Puerto Rican subsidiaries. Puerto Rico has a parallel tax subsidy program effectively exempting 936 corporations from Puerto Rican income taxes as well.
With respect to Puerto Rico, section 936 and its predecessors were intended to spur development of labor-intensive industries in Puerto Rico and improve the islandís high unemployment rates. This made some sense because, from 1950 to 1960, Puerto Rico was a source of inexpensive labor relative to the mainland and was attractive to mainland manufacturers. After 1960, however, countries such as South Korea, the Dominican Republic and Taiwan replaced Puerto Rico as centers for manufacturing, largely by offering cheaper labor.
However, the tax counsel of various Fortune 500 corporations identified a tremendous bottom-line bonanza in section 936. They realized that section 936 made Puerto Rico a tax haven for capital intensive manufacturing, particularly of proprietary products. Thus, contrary to its original purpose, section 936 and its predecessors ultimately attracted capital-intensive manufacturers of pharmaceuticals, electronics, and apparel. A skewed economic composition has resulted, in which profits from manufacturing comprise a larger part of Puerto Ricoís GDP than in any other U.S. state. Given the original intention of improving employment prospects through fostering labor-intensive industries, the opposite results were actually achieved.
Even for historical purposes it is worth examining how costly and ineffective section 936 proved to be. In 1989, section 936 cost the US Treasury $2.37 billion, or $22,375 per 936 employee. Because the average annual wage in a corporation receiving section 936 credits was only $20,540 in 1989, the U.S. Treasury was paying $1835 more per employee in tax losses than the employee received in salary from his or her employment. The pharmaceutical industry received even more in tax benefits for each job. A 1992 General Accounting Office Report found that drug companies with manufacturing operations in Puerto Rico received tax benefits worth $72,788 for each job paying an average of $26,471.
Section 936 indeed proved to be a perverse economic tool. It created a development strategy founded on the hypothesis that if section 936 were to be eliminated, which would occur under statehood, the Puerto Rican economy would collapse. However, the U.S. Congress did act to repeal section 936 over time, and the economy is now performing even better.
In 1993, bipartisan concern over corporate welfare and the budget deficit renewed interest in the political status of Puerto Rico and lawmakers voted to reduce and later to phase out so-called ìsection 936î tax breaks to U.S. corporations which cost the Treasury over $3.8 billion by 1994. The repeal of subsidies which had been considered sacrosanct necessitated a change in economic thinking about the status of Puerto Rico, and has created the opportunity to analyze statehood in a new light.
D. The 1990 Congressional Budget Office Report on Puerto Rico
The notion that the Puerto Rican economy would virtually collapse without section 936 was reinforced by the 1990 release of a Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report that assessed the impact of statehood on the Puerto Rican economy. The CBO report was initiated in response to Senate Bill S. 712 which would have made binding the results of a 1991 referendum to determine the islandís political status. The CBO was asked ìto estimate how a change in Puerto Ricoís status, if it were made under the stipulations of the [then] current version of S. 712, would affect the island economy over the remainder of the decade.î
The CBOís concept of Puerto Ricoís economy under statehood was based primarily on the removal of section 936 tax benefits and changes in federal transfers to the island. However, the assumptions underlying the CBOís projections are unrealistic in several key respects. The model made no allowance for the prospect that the Puerto Rican government could alter its economic strategy to compensate for the termination of 936. It also failed to take account of investorsí changed perceptions of Puerto Rico as a state both fully integrated politically and economically with the United States.
The results of the CBO experiment indicated that, under statehood, real gross product would decrease by 10 to 15 percent, and that investments claiming 936 benefits would drop by 62 to 73 percent points. Additionally, they estimated an increase in the unemployment rate of 4 to 7 percentage points. The extremity of the results is due not only to unrealistic assumptions, but to the specifications of the macro-econometric model which the CBO employed.
When the identical scenario is simulated using a computable general equilibrium (CGE) model more sensitive to and appropriate for the realities of Puerto Ricoís economy, the economic impact is much less dramatic. Without taking account of any adjustments in economic policy or investment, the identical scenario conducted on the CGE model finds that real gross product drops by 5.6 percent, instead of the CBOís 10 to 15 percent. Section 936 investments drop by 63.3 percent under the CGE model, which is congruous with the CBOís result. Employment is decrease by 2.3 percentage points, significantly less than the CBOís 4 to 7 percentage point increase in the unemployment rate. Appendix I gives further detail about the CBO experiment and its CGE replication.
While the CGE simulations still yield negative impacts, the results are much more modest than those generated by the CBOís macro-econometric model. They indicate a resiliency and capacity in the Puerto Rican economy which would not crumble with the removal of section 936. In fact, the CGE model suggests that sensible policy measures by the Puerto Rican government could readily compensate for the loss of section 936. (See section VII for moderate economic policies which could exploit Puerto Ricoís significant potential for growth.)
As in the past, much of what is now happening in the Puerto Rican economy has its roots in events on the U.S. mainland. The push for a balanced budget in the 1990ís made the $3.8 billion tax credit under section 936 a logical target in the U.S. Congress. In spite of substantial efforts to persuade lawmakers that reducing or repealing section 936 subsidies would destroy the Puerto Rican economy, Congress took the first steps in 1993 to limit the amount of tax credit that U.S. corporations could claim under section 936. Then, in the 1996 Small Business Job Protection Act, Congress fully eliminated 936 benefits for new claimants and phased out benefits for existing recipients over the next 10 years.
Puerto Rico's economy has not been devastated by the section 936 repeal and phase-out. Key economic indicators point to the resiliency of the Puerto Rican economy. Total employment increased 3.9 percent from FY 1995 to FY 1996, and total employment during the first seven months of FY 1997 increased 3.7 percent over the same period of FY 1996. Real gross product increased by 3.4 percent from 1994 to 1995, by 3.1 percent from 1995 to 1996, and by a projected 2.8 percent from 1996 to 1997. The fact is that section 936 is in the process of phase-out and, although the grand-fathering period is not yet complete, Puerto Rico remains economically intact. Section 936 has been repealed, and CBOís projections of its impact now appear to be exaggerated in light of Puerto Ricoís economic performance.
The current tone of economic discourse on the island is a start down a promising path, which is confirmed in more frequent calls for the Puerto Rican government to change its role from a provider of services and regulator of industry to a facilitator of private sector development. Although this rhetoric is commendable, the past lack of action surrounding new ideas is notable. Several initiatives have actually gone beyond the level of rhetoric and been put into practice, because of efforts both on the mainland and in Puerto Rico. These efforts include:
Appendix II details actions taken recently by the Puerto Rican government. These initiatives represent a potentially sound beginning, which is nevertheless overshadowed by the uncertainty of Puerto Ricoís full integration into the United States economy.
IV. Puerto Rico and Modern Economic Growth Analysis
The convergence theory of economic growth predicts that the rate at which an economy grows during its transition to the steady state is proportional to its distance from that steady state - the further the distance, the faster the growth, and vice versa. Considering that the US is the largest and wealthiest economy in the world, it is not surprising that during the post war period Puerto Rico linked itself with the US and outperformed other economies with lower steady state levels of per capita income.
The principal conclusion of this research is that the economy of Puerto Rico is no longer converging to the steady state level of per capita income of the United States. A recent paper by Fernando Lefort uses econometric analysis to demonstrate that Puerto Ricoís economy has been diverging away from the U.S. and shows no signs of catching up. Three other significant results from the research are:
B. Convergence theory and political status
The ideas forming our assessment of the cost of commonwealth to Puerto Rico are known as convergence growth theory. Applied to Puerto Rico, these ideas help formulate an answer to our question about the opportunity costs of commonwealth to Puerto Rico. Historically, U.S. states have experienced growth rates 2% higher than territories. This faster growth occurs because the economies of U.S. states are sufficiently integrated that they share similar growth frontiers. That is, U.S. states are converging to a similar endpoint. When a territory becomes a state, its economy becomes much more integrated with the other states than it could have been as a territory. Thus, in addition to the growth a territory is already experiencing on its own, it can expect additional economic expansion on the basis of becoming a state.
As one economy begins to converge toward another wealthier economy, it will initially experience higher growth rates as it ìcatches upî and lessens the gap in per capita income levels between itself and the more developed economy. For this reason, a 3.5 percent higher growth rate is an appropriate estimate of the additional growth that a territory would at first experience as a result of its economic integration with the other U.S. states.
There is strong evidence for convergence among the regions of the U.S. States with lower initial incomes have grown faster than wealthier states. Lefort reviews the strong statistical evidence for convergence among the U.S. states over time and cites some examples:
There is also growing evidence for convergence among the countries of Europe. Market reform and the political and economic integration effected by the European Union have helped to narrow the gap between more and less developed nations. Analysis of regions within the EU also shows a decline in inequality over time.
A combination of market reforms and integration in the EEC have enabled Spain and Portugal to grow faster than their wealthier European counterparts over the past ten to fifteen years. A recent analysis of Portugese economic growth indicates that Portugal has been catching up with the EU since the early 1950ís, with more rapid convergence occurring after 1986 when the country became a full EU member. A review of economic growth data by European region by Robert Leonardi of the London School of Economics found evidence for ìfour decades of convergenceî since the 1950ís. Leonardi finds a consistent pattern of reduction in inequality between the core and peripheral regions in the EU over time.
The economic performance of Hawaii, one of the most recent states, provides a demonstration of the benefits of statehood. The Hawaiian economy grew significantly faster under statehood than as a territory, as it began to integrate with the larger and more developed U.S. economy. Annual increases in real gross state product jumped from 4% during the period 1949 to 1958, to almost 7% in the ìGreat Hawaiian Boomî from 1958 to 1973, coinciding with the move to statehood. As Thomas Kemper Hitch notes in his economic history of Hawaii, this ìprobably set an all-time record for sustained high-level expansion for any state or region in the nation.î Figure 2 below illustrates the rapid growth which Hawaii experienced after statehood.
Hawaiian growth, as expected, increased faster than the United States as it caught up with the more affluent economy. Real growth rates in Hawaii averaged 6.31% during the period after the move to statehood, 1958 to 1973, far exceeding the still impressive U.S. growth rate during the same period of 4.4%.
External investment in Hawaii soared after statehood. The number of firms doing business in Hawaii increased sixfold from 311 in 1955 to 1,916 in 1971. Hawaiiís best known business economist, Hitch writes that this increase without statehood ìwould have taken a generation or two to achieve.î Tourism received a similar boost from statehood: yearly visitors to Hawaii increased fifteenfold between 1958 and 1973, from 171,000 to 2,631,000, and averaged a 20 percent per year increase for 15 years. Tourism spending in Hawaii expanded at a real annual growth rate of 15.1% during the same period, increasing from 5.8% of the economy before statehood to 19% in 1973. Tourism presently comprises approximately 23% of the Hawaiian economy.
Hitch concludes that statehood was one of the key drivers of the Great Hawaiian Boom. He notes that, prior to statehood, ìmost people knew little about the islandsî and ìignorance about Hawaii permeated most American businesses.î Hitch observes that statehood created invaluable exposure for the islands on the U.S. mainland:
D. Commonwealth as a Block to Puerto Ricoís Convergence with the U.S.
The projections of convergence theory provide a framework for dismantling the false tenets of conventional wisdom. One aspect of this conventional wisdom has held that Puerto Ricoís success relative to other Caribbean islands was primarily attributable to its commonwealth status, which was considered to confer significant economic benefits. A second aspect of the conventional wisdom on Puerto Rico contends that Puerto Rico would eventually "catch up" with the United States economically before being admitted as a state, with commonwealth as a temporary status serving to transition the island into statehood.
Puerto Rico is, indeed, relatively successful in comparison to the Caribbean islands and Latin America. However, given its close economic, geographic, and political association with the United States, Puerto Rico should be converging to the United States, instead of to the less developed economies of the Caribbean and Latin America. Evidence clearly shows that Puerto Rico is not converging to the same end point as the United States; and is instead diverging away from the United States towards a lower end point. These data imply that commonwealth has not been the economic ìsaving graceî that it was thought to be and that Puerto Rico will not ìcatch upî to the U.S. as a commonwealth.
Figure 3 clearly indicates that Puerto Rico has failed to converge, or catch up with the US economy since 1972. The graph shows Puerto Rican per capita GDP and GNP expressed as a percentage of the same US figures. From 1955 to 1972, the island economy grew faster relative to the US, in terms of both GNP and GDP. However, since 1972, Puerto Rico has under-performed the US economy, making only a minimal gain in terms of GDP and falling further behind in GNP.
Figure 3a provides further illustration of Puerto Ricoís divergence from the mainland economy. The graph plots the average annual growth rates of Puerto Rico and the U.S. States from 1940 to 1990, given their per capita income in 1940. The slant of the plotted points clearly indicates that poorer states in the U.S. have been catching up with more affluent states through faster growth.
The chart shows that Puerto Rico has not converged with the mainland economy, as per capita income would predict. The filled square marker shows Puerto Ricoís actual growth rate, and the diamond shaped marker shows what its growth rate would have been had it been converging as a state with the U.S. economy. The vertical distance between these two markers is a graphic illustration of the cost of commonwealth in terms of lost growth.
The ìincome gap [between Puerto Rico and the United States] will not be closed just by waiting for it to happen.î Without being a state, no territory can "catch up" to the states. It is only through becoming a state that a territory's economy has the ability to reach the economic level of the U.S. This applies equally to Puerto Rico and other territories: Puerto Rico will not grow to the U.S. level without statehood.
Figure 4 provides graphic illustration of the more rapid growth which Puerto Rico would have experienced had it become a state instead of a commonwealth. The graph contrasts historical growth as a commonwealth with the faster expansion which total integration under statehood would have stimulated.
Figure 3, 3a, and 4 graphically illustrate that commonwealth has imposed a significant opportunity cost on the Puerto Rican people and their economy. Because fully integrated economies grow together towards a common endpoint, Puerto Rico would have grown significantly faster as a state. In fact, U.S. citizens living in Puerto Rico would have been making $6000 more per year in 1994 if the island had become a state in 1955 instead of a commonwealth, and converged the lower income U.S. states.
Table 1 below projects the incremental benefits of Puerto Rico becoming a state in 1994 in terms of per capita income. These changes are benefits which would occur as a result of statehood, and in addition to growth under current status. The table indicates that if Puerto Rico had become a state in 1994, real per capita income would be $1343 more in the year 2000 than under current status.
Benefits of Statehood (if achieved in 1994)
(assuming a convergence rate of 3.5%)
Figure 5 illustrates the impact of statehood on per capita income projected over time. The perforated line represents the projection of increased growth under statehood and the solid line representing historical and expected growth under Puerto Ricoís current commonwealth status.
Convergence theory and modern growth analysis help to provide quantification of the economic impact of political status for Puerto Rico. Analysis indicates that Puerto Rico has not been converging with the United States as a commonwealth, resulting in a growth rate about 2.5% less than would be expected given its initial income level and a steady state like the U.S. The failure to converge has imposed a significant opportunity cost on U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico: per capita income, as indicated in Figure 4, would have been almost double its actual value by 1994.
Statehood plays a critical role in convergence in the U.S.; no full states have experienced the same failure to converge as Puerto Rico did under commonwealth status. In fact, statehood has a demonstrable impact on growth: the economies of U.S. states have grown 2 percentage points faster than those of territories. Most recently, Hawaii experienced significantly faster growth as a state than as a territory.
V. The Fiscal Costs of Commonwealth for the United States
This section details the current costs of commonwealth to the U.S. Treasury in terms of forfeited tax revenues, federal transfers, and wages and salaries, while the fiscal implications of statehood are outlined in section VI. Analysis indicates that under commonwealth, tax breaks under section 936 still cost the Treasury over $3.8 billion in lost revenues while doing little to benefit U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico. Only statehood will eradicate the possibility for additional subsidies which persists under commonwealth. In fact, there remain special interests lobbying for further permanent tax breaks, which have proven to be so costly and ineffective in the past.
Without Puerto Rico integrated into the federal income tax system, the U.S. Treasury is forfeiting tax dollars that it would collect from individuals and corporations in Puerto Rico. The most glaring loss of revenue, however, is from corporations benefiting from section 936 of the Internal Revenue Code. As of 1989, the present value of tax losses was over $52 billion. While the tax breaks are being phased out, section 936 still costs the federal government over $3.8 billion in lost revenues, as of 1994, up from $2.8 billion in 1989.
Even with the phase-out of section 936 in progress, the U.S. Treasury has the expense of 936 for the remainder of the 10-year grand-fathering period. Government reports estimate that the ten year phase-out will cost the government another $25 billion in lost revenues for a program which has been proven to be ineffective (see section II for a review of studies on section 936).
As long as Puerto Rico is a commonwealth, there remains the possibility of tax subsidies which would place a continued drain on the U.S. Treasury and do little to improve the living conditions on the island. Despite improvements in economic policies, there will remain political interests supportive of additional costly and enduring corporate welfare programs. Statehood would eliminate the possibility of further costly subsidies and the dependence mentality which they foster.
Both the Government of Puerto Rico and the US citizens residing in Puerto Rico receive transfers from the federal Government. In FY 1995 Puerto Rico received $9.7 billion in federal outlays, or approximately $2,620 for every person living on the island, which is approximately half of the federal spending distributed to the average state. These funds are spread across various major programs as follows:
1. Payments to Individuals ($5 billion)
The largest share of federal spending in Puerto Rico is in the form of direct federal transfer payments, referred to as "Payments to Individuals" and totalling $5 billion in Puerto Rico in FY 1995. In order of importance to Puerto Rico, the programs include social security payments ($3 billion), Medicare ($775 million), unemployment compensation ($390 million), federal retirement and disability ($200 million), and veterans benefits ($360 million). Under current status, these programs apply to Puerto Rican Residents in essentially the same way as to mainland residents, with a few minor exceptions.
2. Grants to State and Local Governments ($2.4 billion)
The $2.4 billion sent to Puerto Rico as "Grants to State and Local Governments" is the next major component of federal spending on the island. Fully 25 percent of federal spending in Puerto Rico (compared to 19 percent in the average state) is through these intergovernmental grants. The main programs funded in Puerto Rico are community development and housing subsidies ($570 million), Department of Education programs ($380 million), Customs Bureau rebates ($340 million), and social services and welfare ($320 million). Medicaid, which is the largest intergovernmental transfer program to the states, where spending was $340 per capita in FY 1995, was capped at $112 million or $30 per capita in Puerto Rico in FY 1995.
3. Food Stamps ($1.1 billion)
The Food Stamp program is a block grant administered by the Puerto Rican government and called the Nutrition Assistance Program (NAP). Although federal spending in FY 1995 was capped at $1.1 billion, or about $300 per capita, it is the single largest program subsidy from the federal government to Puerto Rico. In FY 1995 Puerto Rico received $810 per year per recipient.
C. Wages and Salaries ($535 million)
This category includes federal spending for the personnel needed to administer federal programs, distribute benefits and ensure the national defense. In FY 1995, federal salaries and wages in Puerto Rico totalled $535 million, or $145 per capita. The primary agencies responsible for these federal personnel in Puerto Rico are the Department of Defense, Veterans Administration, the Justice Department, the Department of Transportation, the Department of the Treasury, and the Agriculture Department.
Puerto Rico as a commonwealth presently costs the federal government approximately $9.7 billion, based on fiscal year 1995 data. Table 2 below summarizes the current costs of commonwealth to the U.S. Treasury in terms of both direct expenditures and lost revenues as a result of tax breaks. Under the current status, expenditures would continue without the receipt of any taxes from Puerto Rican corporations or individuals.
Current Costs of Commonwealth
VI. The Fiscal Impact of Statehood
This section examines the fiscal impact of statehood from several key perspectives. We evaluate the fiscal impact of statehood on the federal budget and on Puerto Rico, by calculating the incremental effect on each party had Puerto Rico been a state in 1995. Contrary to fears that Puerto Rico would be a drain on the federal budget, this analysis demonstrates that statehood would actually have cost less than commonwealth. Tax revenues from individuals and corporations would have exceeded any increases in federal transfers to Puerto Rico. Statehood would also have been a net fiscal benefit for Puerto Rico.
As detailed above in section V, Puerto Rico received $9.7 billion in 1995 from the federal government. Although some of these programs are already funded for Puerto Rican residents in the same way that they are for mainland residents, funding for some programs may change under statehood. Regardless of status, changes to reduce the disparity in funding levels between U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico and on the mainland are possible in the future.
a. Payments to Individuals ($740 million)
Puerto Ricans are already receiving most federal individual transfer payments on the same basis as mainland residents. U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico are not, however, currently eligible for Supplemental Security Insurance (SSI) benefits for the aged, blind, and disabled. Without detailed statistics on its eligible population, it is difficult to predict the cost of administering SSI in Puerto Rico. Mississippi, the poorest state in the U.S. in 1995, received $195 in SSI payments per capita. If Puerto Rico were to have a similar incidence of SSI payments as a state in 1995, U.S. citizens would have received a total of $740 million.
b. Grants to State and Local Governments ($440 million)
According to the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration, the $122 million in federal funding that the island currently receives covered only 18 percent of the Puerto Rican government's Medicaid-related program costs. Were it to operate under the same rules as the states, Puerto Rico would be eligible for the highest federal reimbursement rate of 83 percent. This would have resulted in an additional $440 million over and above the $122 million cap for Puerto Rico in 1995, holding constant participation / eligibility rates from pre- and post-statehood periods.
c. Food Stamps ($151 million)
U.S. citizens receiving food stamps in Puerto Rico currently receive $810 per year under the Nutrition Assistance Program grant, compared to $919 per Food Stamp recipient in the states. Under statehood, Puerto Ricans would be eligible for Food Stamps just as are mainland residents, which would result in the termination of the NAP grant and the full extension of the federal Food Stamp program to the island. With no projected increased participation in the program were Puerto Rico to be a state and federal reimbursement of the additional $109 per recipient that states receive, the island would have drawn another $151 million under statehood in 1995.
2. Wages and Salaries ($60 million)
Because the federal government is, to a large extent, already established in Puerto Rico, statehood would not require a major installation of federal agencies as if the island were completely new to the federal system. However, under statehood, the need for federal personnel on the island would likely increase by a slight degree. Additional personnel would be required, but only as a supplement to the federal employees already in Puerto Rico.
The precise extent to which federal personnel in Puerto Rico would increase is unknown. In order to offer a reasonable estimate, we have taken the average of the five states with the lowest 1995 per capita levels of wage/salary receipts from the federal government: Wisconsin, Michigan, Iowa, New Hampshire, and New York. This method yields a lower-bound estimate and is appropriate for Puerto Rico because the existing federal establishment on the island indicates that further expansion would be minimal. The resulting approximation is $161 per capita, or $595 million aggregate, in federal wages/salaries which Puerto Rico might have expected under statehood in 1995. Since the islandís actual 1995 level was $145 per capita, or $535 million aggregate, the estimated increase under statehood is approximately $16 per capita, or $60 million in the aggregate.
3. Procurements (to be determined)
Most procurement spending is determined through a competitive bidding process, although much is at the direct discretion of the Executive Branch. These federal dollars will be spent, regardless; the only question is where they will be spent. That is, federal procurement dollars spent in State A would have been spent in State B if State A had not been chosen. A substantial portion of federal procurement spending is for national defense. While statehood would solidify Puerto Ricoís strategic importance, the commonwealth already receives defense procurement dollars for military bases on the island which would not significantly increase under statehood. Procurement dollars represent no spending increase for the federal government, nor are they a direct benefit to Puerto Rico as real goods and services must be given up in exchange for the payments received.
For these reasons, procurements will not be included in our estimate of increased federal spending as a consequence of Puerto Rico becoming a state: procurements represent no net increase in spending for the federal government, existing defense-related spending would not likely change, and they do not represent a dollar for dollar benefit to Puerto Rico as goods and services are sold in exchange for the procurement expenditure.
4. Total Changes in Federal Funding
The total estimated increase, then, is achieved by totalling increases in federal transfer programs and wages/salaries, for a total of approximately $1.4 billion. If Puerto Rico had been a state in 1995, it would have received $1.4 billion more in federal transfers than it actually received in 1995 as a commonwealth. Table 3 summarizes the incremental changes in federal funding that would have accrued to Puerto Rico under statehood in 1995.
Increased Federal Transfers to Puerto Rico Under Statehood
FY 1995 Dollars
C. Net Fiscal Impact
1. Impact on the Federal Budget
Corporations operating under section 936 in Puerto Rico are subsidiaries of large U.S. corporations with headquarters on the mainland. Although they are located on the island, they are linked to mainland interests. A change in status for Puerto Rico would totally change and significantly increase their tax contribution since under statehood, tax credits like section 936 could not legally exist. Because of the peculiar arrangement of 936 corporations, we have distinguished them for the sake of analysis from Puerto Rican corporations and included their projected tax contributions to the U.S. Treasury under statehood in our calculation of the net fiscal impact of statehood on the U.S. budget.
The aggregate income tax contribution for corporations in Puerto Rico, adding together both 936 and non-936 corporations, under U.S. tax code, is an estimated $3.47 billion to $4.07 billion. When the $49 million in individual income tax and the $3.47 to $4.07 billion in corporate income tax are totalled, the result is an aggregate tax contribution of $3.52 to $4.12 billion. This is our estimate of the aggregate federal individual and corporate taxes associated with Puerto Rico under statehood. Using the 1995 population estimate of 3.7 million people in Puerto Rico, this aggregate tax burden yields per capita taxes of $951 to $1114.
The net fiscal impact of statehood is the difference between the amount that Puerto Rico and 936 corporations would contribute to the U.S. Treasury and the amount that would be transferred from the U.S. Treasury to Puerto Rico under statehood. Each of these two changes is measured from the baseline of commonwealth. That is, receipts and expenditures to which the federal government and Puerto Rico are already committed under commonwealth are not considered changes due to statehood. To estimate the net fiscal impact of incremental changes due to statehood on the federal budget, a range is given to reflect the intra-governmental disagreement over the cost of section 936. Table 4 shows estimates of the net impact of statehood on the federal government had Puerto Rico been a state in 1995.
Upper Bound Estimate of Net Impact of Statehood
on Federal Budget in 1995:
Transfers to Puerto Rico from Federal Budget: $1.40 billion
Tax Revenue from Puerto Rico to Federal Budget: -$3.52 billion
Net Expenditures from Federal Budget: -$2.12 billion
Lower Bound Estimate of Net Impact of Statehood
on Federal Budget in 1995:
Puerto Rico would more than pay for itself in terms of increased federal transfers due to statehood. That is, federal transfers are expected to increase by $1.4 billion in one year whereas tax revenues from one year are estimated from $3.52 to $4.12 billion. Therefore, $2.12 to $2.72 billion of the tax revenue collected in association with Puerto Rico statehood will be savings to the U.S. Treasury from statehood. Because tax revenues to the federal government outweigh federal expenditures, statehood would be less expensive for the U.S. Treasury than is commonwealth.
It is important to note that there is no statutory requirement that U.S. states contribute as much as they receive to the federal government, or vice versa; there are many states that contribute more than they receive and many that contribute less than they receive. This redistributive power of the federal government to coordinate activity and finances among the states, is part of federalism.
Figure 6 below illustrates the 1995 net savings to the U.S. Treasury from the incremental changes of statehood as compared to commonwealth, using the $3.52 billion estimate of 936 revenues.
The bottom line of the net fiscal impact calculations above should be interpreted just as it is written, as net expenditures from the federal budget, due to statehood. This number should not be thought of as net receipts by Puerto Rico; the existence of 936 corporations has complicated the picture. Since 936 corporations do not represent Puerto Rican assets, but stateside assets, the net receipts by Puerto Rico from statehood are actually higher than these figures indicate. That is, much of the tax revenues from statehood come from 936 corporations, not Puerto Rican residents.
Under statehood, Puerto Rican individuals and corporations would contribute, respectively, $49 million and $671 million to the U.S. Treasury totalling $720 million. Proportionally, the $720 million represents 18 to 21 percent of the total increased revenue to the U.S. Treasury attributable to statehood. When the contributions of section 936 corporation are excluded from bottom-line calculations of the net fiscal impacts of statehood, the benefit to Puerto Rico is accentuated. Table 5 below presents the estimated benefit of statehood to Puerto Rico, had the island been a state in 1995.
Estimate of Net Impact of Statehood
on Puerto Rico in 1995:
Comparing commonwealth to statehood as presented in table 5, the net fiscal benefit of statehood to Puerto Rico would have been $680 million had Puerto Rico been a state in 1995. The increased revenues accruing to Puerto Rico under statehood would be relatively small in the context of existing transfers under commonwealth of $9.7 billion. Figure 7 depicts the 1995 costs and benefits of statehood over commonwealth for Puerto Rico.
The difference between the bottom line from Table 4 and the bottom line from Table 5 is striking, but logical. It is largely due to Puerto Ricoís post-WWII development strategy that favoured ìexternal,î U.S. investment and incentives through tax credits. Thus, much of the corporate wealth currently in Puerto Rico is part of mainland U.S. corporations who are not being taxed by the U.S. Treasury on profits earned by their Puerto Rican subsidiaries, due to the section 936 tax credit. That is, the fiscal benefit that Puerto Rico would experience under statehood in relation to the U.S. budget would be financed largely by tax revenues from profits of 936 companies, profits that have gone untaxed since the enactment of section 936.
Although 936 is being phased out over 10 years with Puerto Rico as a commonwealth, there remain political interests, both in the U.S. Congress and among Puerto Rican policy makers, to undo the recent repeal of 936 or to enact other ineffective permanent tax breaks. The very possibility of resuscitating section 936 in essence precludes the formulation of an aggressive private sector development strategy for Puerto Rico and keeps alive the ìdependence mentalityî which has helped to keep the Puerto Rican economy in stagnation since the 1970ís. A change in status to statehood would permanently repeal section 936, and capture the corporate income of 936 corporations into the U.S. tax system.
In this section, it is argued that adopting private sector-led economic policies will enable Puerto Rico to exercise its latent capacity for growth. A history of tax gimmicks and distorting subsidies has steered the Puerto Rican economy away from areas of competitive advantage at significant cost both to the U.S. Treasury and U.S. citizens living in Puerto Rico. In fact, until the U.S. Congress decided to phase out the section 936 credit in 1996, Puerto Rico had not undergone any substantial change in its development strategy since the end of World War II.
We argue that Puerto Rico must adopt a development strategy based on the real comparative advantages of Puerto Rico and its people, not on artificial tax incentives. Such a strategy has worked in the United States, and it has produced significant growth throughout the world. We suggest modest policies based on the best practices of economies which have experienced strong growth. In particular, we propose five initiatives which have proven effective in stimulating investment and sustained growth.
Economic reform will not, however, create optimal and sustainable results without resolution of the status issue through statehood. The political status issue dominates politics in Puerto Rico such that no economic development policy could generate sustainable, long-term success. Further, Puerto Rico has failed to realize its growth potential under commonwealth status as it would as a state, fully integrated with the U.S.
Among other assets, Puerto Rico possesses a well-trained and productive workforce, a strategic location bridging the U.S. and Latin America, and a well-developed financial infrastructure which will form the solid basis for future growth. The computable general equilibrium (CGE) model replicating the Puerto Rican economy (see section II) provides evidence for resiliency and latent capacity. Modelling additional scenarios using the CGE model indicate that this potential for growth could be realized through modest policy initiatives. Commonwealth status, however, continues to play a critical role in preventing Puerto Rico from realizing its economic potential (see section IV for the findings of modern growth analysis).
Privatization alone is not a panacea, but it is a vital component of the updated development strategy that would maximize economic growth in Puerto Rico. Privatization is a means to the end, economic growth, not the end itself and ìcan best be regarded as . . . a logical complement to a broad strategy of private sector development.î First steps toward privatization are under discussion on the island, but only a few public corporations have been proposed. In our opinion, a larger number of public corporations should be under review for prompt privatization, both in terms of ownership and management. We recognize the political difficulties that can accompany privatization initiatives due to the strength of organized labor. Because of this opposition, all attempts at privatization should involve appropriate transition plans and periods.
For public corporations that are not suitable for privatization, adjusting fees and charges to reflect more accurately the cost of service provision should be considered. Bringing user fees in line with the cost of service accomplishes two objectives. First, it increases the public corporationís revenues so that it does not have to rely on the governmentís general funds for operating expenses. Second, it gives residents a sense of investment in the services they receive: ìcitizens are less likely to waste government services if the costs are more directly understood.î
These reforms would reduce the claims on government finances by reducing the number of public corporations being operated publicly and by raising revenues from other sources. This would free up assets in Puerto Ricoís general fund for new initiatives. The reforms would also stimulate private sector capacity to provide goods and services that it had not provided before due to the operation of public corporations.
Reliable infrastructure is critical for attracting investment to Puerto Rico. However, Puerto Rico has historically relied on its public sector for carrying out infrastructure development. As public corporations are privatized, more space will be created in the economy for more efficient private sector initiatives. Relying more on the private sector to implement infrastructure programs reduces costs and tax burdens. The pressure to reduce Puerto Ricoís tax burden will provide a continuing pressure for the use of the private sector to fund and manage needed infrastructure development.
Increased government efficiency will help existing investments achieve healthy growth and attract investors looking for sites for new investment. Most attractive to investors is a streamlined government that does not interfere excessively with capital markets and that has sensible, effective policies that help and not hinder the proper functioning of the private sector. In short, ownership and management of currently public enterprises should be privatized to reduce the size of the Puerto Rican government, and the public agencies that remain should be made more efficient.
The ideas that should guide public sector reform, in our estimation, are one, that statutes and processes should be simplified and two, that government should be converted into a facilitator of private initiatives, not a provider of basic services. Appendix II discusses the current Puerto Rican governmentís efforts at streamlining the public sector. Progress has been encouraging, yet it represents only a first step in a long and needed process of reform.
It is our opinion that performance-based budgeting should be considered as a means of increasing efficiency in the Puerto Rican public sector, especially in light of the success this type of budgeting has effected in New Zealand and other countries around the world. The benefits are at least three-fold. Performance-based budgeting requires that targets be set, which highlight areas of poor service. For example, if the licensing division has a goal of processing 500 applications a week and consistently processes only 370, energy can be focused on closing the performance gap. Secondly, departments and agencies that fail to justify their existence by failing to produce results can be restructured or dissolved, as deemed appropriate. Eliminating useless or duplicative departments saves public dollars. The final benefit that performance-based budgeting could produce in Puerto Rico is an improvement in the organizational culture of the public sector, particularly in the management ranks. The Revenue Department of New Zealand experienced strong positive results from implementing performance-based budgeting:
Historically, Puerto Rico has failed to capitalize on several key sources of competitive advantage: its human capital, and its natural beauty, climate, and location. Puerto Ricoís relatively educated and productive workforce have traditionally drawn investment to the island over other locations. Relative to most Latin American and Caribbean countries, Puerto Ricoís education system is good. However, plans for new investment in educational infrastructure and other social infrastructure on the island seem insufficient in light of increasing competition for investment and greater demands for skilled workers.
In FY 1990, for example, education spending accounted for only 18.3 percent of general fund expenditures in Puerto Rico, while expenditures for education by U.S. state and local governments accounted for 35 percent of total expenditures in the same year. While Puerto Ricoís workforce is educated to a level that makes it competitive with the Caribbean and Latin America, greater investment would increase this competitive edge and bring the education system more in line with the United States.
Two of Puerto Ricoís most important natural advantages are its location and climate. Nevertheless, Puerto Ricoís tourist industry remains underdeveloped: only 6% of gross domestic product is generated by tourism. In contrast, tourism in the Caribbean economies as a whole contributes 29.5% of GDP, and tourism in Hawaii contributes 24.3% of the economy. Puerto Ricoís climate and natural beauty can be leveraged to generate more tourism through publicity and advertising campaigns strategically targeted at key consumer populations on the mainland and world-wide, particularly in Latin America.
F. Potential Tax Initiatives
Puerto Rico now has a specific excise tax on alcohol, tobacco, petroleum products, crude oil, vehicles, cement, sugar, horse races, hotel rooms, etc., as well as a general 5 percent excise tax on other products. This excise tax is collected at the point of sale by the manufacturer or importer, but with substantial tax avoidance. The government of Puerto Rico could collect more of what the law entitles it to, and collect it more efficiently, if the tax were assessed as a consumption tax instead. A consumption tax shifts the point of tax collection from the manufacturer or importer to the point of final sale of the good. According to a 1994 study, in the case of final consumption by business or government, this tax would apply to the selling price, whether the purchase is made from a retailer, a wholesaler, or directly from a manufacturer or importer.
The conventional argument against a consumption tax states that, due to the presence of small, family-run stores in Puerto Rico, there would be substantial seepage of a consumption tax, due to the retailer failing to collect the tax. Thus, potential tax revenue would fall through the cracks. However, it is estimated by those familiar with the business climate in Puerto Rico that over 90 percent of retail transactions take place in larger shopping areas, which are secure reporters of revenue. These are established businesses with standard operating procedures that do many of their sales transactions by credit card. Since the majority of taxed transactions can be accounted for in larger retail centers, a consumption tax would collect more than the present excise tax, even if collection rates were to remain the same.
The conversion from an excise tax to a consumption tax could be accomplished in several ways. A 1994 revenue simulation of the Puerto Rican indirect tax system found that adopting different combinations of tax policy tools could increase indirect tax revenues by up to as much as 33 percent over 1992 levels.
Another aspect of tax reform is the possibility of extending a minimum tax liability on publicly owned corporations. Government owned corporations currently control large amounts of resources which go completely untaxed. Since they are incorporated as quasi-public entities, it is open to question whether it would make sense to tax them in the same manner as private corporations are taxed. However, extending a small tax to public corporations does two things. First, it would raise revenues for the governmentís general fund by assessing income and assets that currently go untaxed. Second, it would apply a small amount of pressure to push public corporations into greater efficiency. If their operating budget were cut through a minimal tax obligation, public corporations would be in the position of having to do the same or greater amount of work with fewer resources and thus cut unnecessary activity.
In 1993, the Puerto Rican government lowered its marginal income tax rates, which is a move in the right direction. Appendix II details these changes and alludes to the next round of tax rate restructuring, anticipated in 1999. It would be beneficial, in our opinion, for the 1999 restructuring to follow the trend of lowering marginal tax rates begun in 1993. The second area of Puerto Ricoís income tax structure that we think should be addressed is its complexity. Any moves toward simplification of the tax code and consolidation of tax categories would be welcome.
In order to realize its economic potential, Puerto Rico must depart from its historical reliance on tax incentive development, which has distorted the economy and diverted activity away from areas of competitive advantage. We have suggested several key reforms which have proven effective for stimulating growth in the U.S. and around the world.
Resolution of the lingering status issue, however, will be critical for effective implementation of any economic reforms in Puerto Rico. Puerto Rican politics is dominated by the status issue, and the three major political parties hold out their support of statehood, commonwealth, or independence as central defining characteristics. Statehood would represent a definitive resolution of the status issue, and provide added incentive and support for economic reform. Only statehood will enable Puerto Rico to optimize its growth potential, as section IV on modern growth analysis indicates.
Investment is a critical driver of economic growth, and statehood would create a more stable and certain environment for investment in Puerto Rico than is possible under commonwealth status. As a senior banker in Puerto Rico recently observed, ìtime and stable rules are what investors want.î Statehood would put an end to the persistent uncertainty over political structure and tax benefits which has plagued Puerto Rico under commonwealth status.
Statehood would also move Puerto Rico from a ìforeignî to a ìdomesticî location in the eyes of mainland U.S. investors, creating a more favorable environment for investment. Statehood would similarly distinguish Puerto Rico from other developing economies to foreign investors, by making Puerto Rico a clear part of the U.S. In an era of escalating trade liberalization and increasing competition for investment, statehood would set Puerto Rico apart from competing developing economies in the Caribbean and Latin America, and across the globe.
A. Statehood would make Puerto Rico a ìdomesticî not ìforeignî investment location
In the world of advertising, the television viewer is informed that he can rent from Hertz or ìnot exactly.î Puerto Rico presently falls into the ìnot exactlyî category. Investors in the United States analyze potential projects on the basis of whether they are ìdomesticî or ìforeign.î Corporations view their operations as domestic or foreign. As it stands, Puerto Rico falls into the ìforeignî category which makes investing or establishing operations more complicated and confusing from a U.S. perspective. For example, U.S. rating agencies like Standard and Poors and Moodyís Investor Services assess Puerto Rico as an external unit. Maps of the U.S. for business readers do not show the island, and general maps identify it, parenthetically, as part of the U.S., an identification which would hardly be necessary for Hawaii or Alaska. It is also reported that parents of remaining 936 firms still ask how their Puerto Rican subsidiary makes its foreign exchange translation from the island currency, although the Puerto Rico has used the dollar for decades.
A recent lawsuit filed in Europe illustrates that Puerto Rico is not considered a full and proper part of the U.S. abroad either. Wrangler, Ltd. recently filed a lawsuit alleging that the ìMade in the U.S.A.î label on Puerto Rican goods was ìincomplete, inaccurate, and . . . misleadingî because the products were produced in Puerto Rico, not the United States. The suit claimed that the label was misleading because articles manufactured outside the U.S. were often produced in ìlow-wage countries.î
Becoming a state would provide investors with the real McCoy, whereas its nebulous commonwealth status now makes it, in their perception, foreign and ìnot exactlyî part of the U.S. Statehood would make Puerto Rico a ìdomesticî location and clearly distinguish it from neighboring Caribbean and Latin American economies.
Based on the development experiences of countries around the globe, it is our opinion that Puerto Rico should adopt a sustainable growth strategy free from the investment incentive gimmicks and distortions that were prevalent in earlier stages of Puerto Ricoís development and, to a large extent, still prevail on the island. Such a strategy has produced and is producing growth in many parts of the world. The steps that are being taken as part of Puerto Ricoís current development strategy are encouraging, but insufficient to solidify serious growth for the Puerto Rican economy.
There are two dimensions of sustainable growth that should be addressed: one, attracting stable, substantial investment to the island and two, reforming the institutions that either attract or influence the impact of said investment. The concepts and frameworks presented in the previous section are development lessons learned from the experiences of the United States and other countries which have experienced rapid and sustained growth.
One of the primary reasons that Puerto Ricoís economy has experienced such long-lasting stagnation is that uncertainty about the islandís future has largely kept investors from serious investment in Puerto Rico. The exception has been investment spurred by section 936 corporate welfare, which has proven an inefficient and ineffective development tool, but which has cost the Puerto Rican taxpayer nothing. To compensate for increased risk, investment on the island has been targeted to short-term, high return projects. Lowering this risk from uncertainty would lead to a greater quantity of investment, in longer-term and less-remunerative projects. It is important to note that this persisting uncertainty has hindered investment by Puerto Rican, as well as external investors, as table 5 illustrates. Uncertainty in Puerto Rico has three sources:
The cost of uncertainty, both in terms of opportunity and in growth, has been high for the people of Puerto Rico. Statehood would remove the risk of a change in political status, which continues under commonwealth status, and the inherent risk involved in any tax haven. It would further ensure an end to development strategies like 936 which will only continue to create uncertainty for investors.
There are two distinct groups of investors to consider when thinking of investment in Puerto Rico. First are the U.S. citizens residing in Puerto Rico, who have diversified their portfolios (and the location of their investments) and chosen not to invest in Puerto Rico. Many of their investment dollars have gone elsewhere, often to Florida. Table 9 details the inflow/outflow of capital in Puerto Rico during the period 1981 to 1994.
External Capital Flows of Puerto Rico
(millions of dollars)
Net inflow Net outflow
of external of capital from Net movement
Year capital Puerto Rico of capital
1981 1673 458 1215
1982 1834 1441 393
1983 123 2151 -2028
1984 392 2108 -1716
1985 917 2645 -1728
1986 1243 373 870
1987 1697 2393 -696
1988 -768 -2091 1323
1989 1202 1356 -154
1990 734 812 -78
1991 -553 -796 243
1992 2126 2410 -284
1993 278 9 269
1994 1412 1273 139
Total 12,310 14,542 -2232
Table 9 makes it clear that from 1981 to 1994, Puerto Rico actually exported more capital than it imported, contrary to the image of Puerto Rico as a recipient of capital from the mainland. Puerto Rican investors have been diversifying their investments because they perceive the islandís economic future to be uncertain. In fact, there has been little or no incentive for Puerto Ricans to invest on the island. Neither the U.S. Congress nor Puerto Rico has broadened the islandís investment strategy to encompass more than section 936, which is geared entirely toward ìexternal,î or mainland, investment. There has been nothing to attract local Puerto Rican investment to the island or to encourage their medium- to long-term financial commitments there. The result is that practically no Puerto Rican entrepreneurial class has become committed to development on the island.
The second group of investors is from the mainland U.S. and abroad. The conditions under which these entrepreneurs operate, however, are controlled by the U.S. Congress, not by the Puerto Rican government. Statehood would distinguish Puerto Rico as a destination for external investors among multiple possible locations in the area. Under statehood, Puerto Rico would offer permanent advantages which similar locations competing for investment simply cannot match, including complete exemption from U.S. tariffs, use of the U.S. dollar, and protection under the U.S. legal system.
Puerto Rico also faces a future of intense competition for investment, in which its commonwealth status will prove to be even less of an advantage. Before the age of relaxed trade regimes, Puerto Rico was in a relatively advantageous position compared to competing developing countries. However, NAFTA and the GATT have eroded Puerto Ricoís comparative advantage by bringing other countries into parity with Puerto Rico in terms of U.S. trade policy. Statehood would set Puerto Rico clearly apart from developing countries in the Caribbean, Latin American, and around the world as a clear part of the United States.
It is also important to note that many of the countries with which Puerto Rico competes for investments have already adopted market-based reforms and private sector-based development strategies which place them, in many respects, ìahead ofî Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico continues to rely upon the public sector-driven strategy that it adopted in the 1950ís. With its emphasis on self-reliance, resolution of the status issue, and stability and consistency of tax treatment, statehood would act as a catalyst for needed reform.
With section 936, U.S. corporations interested in short-term investments have registered good rates of return due to the tax credit. However, external investors wanting to make medium- or long-term investments have often judged, reasonably, that their investments would be more secure in Mexico, Chile, or Ireland than in Puerto Rico. Furthermore, if relations with Cuba are normalized, Cuba could represent an enormous challenge to Puerto Ricoís competitiveness. The bottom line is that Puerto Rico is only one location out of many that investors consider when making investment decisions. Thus, Puerto Rico must distinguish itself through statehood in order to experience real growth in its economy.
Puerto Ricoís past attraction to investors has been attributable, in large part, to its relationship with the United States: inclusion within the U.S. customs zone, geographical proximity to the U.S. market, use of the U.S. dollar, special treatment under U.S. corporate tax code, relative degree of stability due to its association with the U.S., and inclusion within the U.S. judicial system. However Puerto Ricoís relationship with the United States has become less advantageous over time in two important ways.
First, the U.S. minimum wage was extended gradually to Puerto Rico, with all qualifying workers reaching the mainland level of minimum wage coverage by 1981. One effect of the federal minimum wage in Puerto Rico, aside from its positive impacts, was that it eroded the islandís competitive position in terms of labor costs, vis--vis other countries. Second, with the recent advances in communication technology, Puerto Ricoís proximity to the U.S. does not provide as much relative benefit as in previous decades. Thus, the extension of the federal wage to Puerto Rico and the declining advantage of close proximity to the U.S. have both worn away Puerto Ricoís competitive advantage for attracting investment.
The availability of investment is a key factor in determining growth in an economy. Statehood would make Puerto Rico a more favorable location for mainland investors by making it a ìdomesticî rather than ìforeignî location, and for foreign investors by making Puerto Rico a clear and full part of the U.S. It would further constitute a definitive elimination of uncertainty regarding political and tax structure, and distinguish the island from other developing economies as trade liberalization through NAFTA, MERCOSUR, and other agreements escalates across the western hemisphere.
Puerto Ricoís political status has profound economic consequences for the island and for U.S. taxpayers, whether as a state or a commonwealth, a nebulous concept both to investors and mainland U.S. citizens. Contrary to conventional wisdom, commonwealth has been a cost and not a benefit for Puerto Rico and the U.S. Treasury. An economic impact analysis indicates that statehood would stimulate growth and investment on the island and improve living standards for its residents. From a fiscal perspective, bringing in Puerto Rico as the 51st state would result in both a net benefit to the U.S. Treasury and U.S. citizens living in Puerto Rico.
Erroneously, Puerto Rico is still considered by many to be a model of economic development. In fact, the Puerto Rican economy has stagnated since the 1970ís after some successful growth in the 1950ís and 1960ís. Annual growth levels averaged only 1.7% in real terms from 1975 to 1984. Unemployment reached 22% in the 1980ís, stabilized at around 15% during the 1990ís, and currently stands at double the U.S. rate. In short, the Puerto Rican economy is anything but a case of ìif it ainít broke, donít fix it.î
It is only through comparing Puerto Rico with developing economies in the Caribbean and Latin America that its economic performance appears favorable. Given that the residents of Puerto Rico are U.S. citizens and its intimate economic, geographic, and political ties to the United States, Puerto Rico should be compared with the fifty states. This comparison reveals the paucity of economic progress on the island. The islandís 1995 per capita income of $7296 was less than half of Mississippiís, the poorest U.S. state.
Puerto Ricoís economy would grow significantly faster as a state for two reasons: modern growth analysis and common sense. ìConvergence theory,î when reduced to practice and data analysis, shows that the less developed regions of the U.S. economy ìcatch upî with more affluent parts over time. Since 1940, for example, Mississippi has grown twice as fast as wealthier Northeastern states, and has narrowed the gap with the rest of the U.S. Mississippi now earns 50% rather than 22% as much per capita as the richest state.
Puerto Rico has not converged towards the wealthier U.S. economy like Mississippi, despite close economic, geographic, and political ties to the U.S. In fact, GNP per capita on the island was $7296 in 1995, less than half that of Mississippi, the poorest U.S. state. The gap between the U.S. economy and the Puerto Rican economy has not narrowed because Puerto Rico has not been a full participant in the U.S. economy and political system.
Only the full integration of statehood will narrow the gap. Recent studies on economic growth indicate that states grow 2% faster than territories because of their full integration with the U.S. economy and political system. In Hawaii, the economic growth rate almost doubled in real terms during the fifteen years after statehood, expanding by almost 7 percent each year. If Puerto Rico had become a state in 1955, its residents would have been earning fully $6000 more per year by 1994 than under commonwealth status, assuming only a moderate rate of convergence. Alternatively, if Puerto Rico had become a state in 1994, real per capita income would grow $1343 more by the year 2000 than with commonwealth status.
The common sense argument is best represented by the Hertz advertisement on television. Namely, you rent from Hertz, or ìnot exactly.î From the perspective of an investor, you either invest in a U.S. state or a foreign entity. Because Puerto Rico is not a U.S. state, it is considered by potential investors as a foreign entity and falls in the ìnot exactlyî category. Wranglerís recent lawsuit alleging that ìMade in the USAî labels for Puerto Rican goods are ìinaccurateî and ìmisleadingî points to foreign perception of Puerto Rican status.
Puerto Ricoís nebulous and uncertain political status will prove an increasing disadvantage in a world of escalating globalization and expanding free trade. As the competition for investment between developing economies intensifies, statehood will set Puerto Rico apart from other potential locations in the Caribbean, Latin America, and across the world. Statehood will provide the security and stability to attract investment and drive economic growth in Puerto Rico, complete access to the widest market in the world, and an end to the uncertainty facing investors with respect to future rules of the game.
Economic analysis clearly shows that Puerto Rico has the potential to grow. The pace of growth, however, will be driven by Puerto Ricoís political status and economic strategy. A computable general equilibrium (CGE) model replicating the Puerto Rican economy indicates a latent capacity for growth which has not been realized. Puerto Rico has considerable assets which will form the basis for future growth, including a productive and educated workforce, a developed financial infrastructure, and a strategic location.
In fact, concerns that the Puerto Rican economy could not survive the repeal of 936 have been unfounded. To the contrary, real GDP and employment in Puerto Rico have continued to grow since 1994. Government finances have improved and the U.S. rating agency, Standard & Poors revised its outlook this year on Puerto Rico from negative to stable in light of its current budget surplus and improved tax collections. While the economy currently shows promise, only statehood will enable Puerto Rico to optimize its growth potential in the long run.
From the perspective of the American taxpayer and the U.S. Congress, conscious of budget deficits, making Puerto Rico a state would actually cost the federal government less and reduce the deficit, on the basis of present value and additional savings from increased tax revenues driven by faster economic growth. If Puerto Rico had been a state in 1995, the U.S. Treasury would have saved at least $2.1 billion. This finding should not be surprising, given that the U.S. currently collects no taxes from Puerto Rico. Nevertheless, the federal government sent $9.7 billion to Puerto Rico in 1995 alone, and forfeited an additional $3.8 billion in lost tax revenues under section 936.
Puerto Rico itself would benefit from statehood from increased federal funds, as U.S. citizens on the island begin to receive comparable benefits to citizens on the mainland. Estimates indicate that statehood would bring the island an additional $1.4 billion in federal funds and cost $720 million in taxes from non-936 corporations and individuals, leading to a net benefit. It might also be fallacious to consider these increases in federal spending to be costs of statehood in comparison to commonwealth status. It seems unlikely that citizen groups, and Hispanic groups in particular, will allow the large disparity between benefits received by U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico and citizens on the mainland to continue even if the current status were to persist.
In sum, the pace of Puerto Ricoís growth hinges on its full integration into the U.S. economy, namely through statehood. Puerto Ricoís once privileged trade status is rapidly being eroded by falling tariffs under NAFTA and the GATT. Potential investors from the U.S. and elsewhere will not appreciate Puerto Ricoís nebulous political status as a source of economic advantage. Looking towards the 21st century, statehood will set Puerto Rico clearly apart from developing economies in the Caribbean and Latin America and make it an unequivocal part of the United States.
Statehood will drive faster growth through full integration with the U.S. economy and enable Puerto Rico to optimize its significant growth potential. Faster economic growth under statehood will mean higher incomes for U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico, and higher incomes will bring in more tax revenues to the U.S. Treasury.
The 1990 Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report provided an assessment of the impact of statehood on the Puerto Rican economy. Their simulation of statehood involved a reduction in section 936 capital and investment, an increase in federal transfers, a reduction in exports, an increase in unemployment, and a reduction in gross product. The CBO used a macroeconometric model, which is dynamic across time, but does not allow for disaggregation of different sectors in the economy. Thus, in the CBO model, different sectors of the economy cannot respond in different ways to particular policy interventions, and the aggregate results cannot incorporate the interactions among different sectors of the economy. In addition, macro-economic models historically emerged as an outgrowth of Keynesian economics in which prices were generally taken as fixed. Thus, although macro models can technically allow for price flexibility, they are most often built under the assumption of fixed price levels. CBO also made this assumption, and this is another important limitation of CBOís model for Puerto Rico.
The CBO study was replicated using the CGE model to determine how robust the CBO estimates were. The CGE model draws upon the strengths of both macro models and input-output models, and it avoids their respective limitations. Thus, it allows for sectoral disaggregation, while at the same time incorporating income expenditure relationships and allowing prices to be flexible. It also allows for non-linearity of relationships within the economy. The construction of a CGE model, therefore, poses a much more difficult task than either the input-output or the macroeconometric models. While input-output models can take data directly from the input-output table and the macro models can be built solely on the basis of national income accounts data, construction of CGE models requires data from both input-output tables and the national accounts. The CGE model is calibrated to the most recently released 1987 input-output tables, and has ten sectors.
The results of the CBO experiment indicated that, under statehood, real gross product would decrease from 10 to 15 percent, that there would be a 62 to 73 percent decrease in 936 investments, and that 936 exports would decrease by 33 to 43 percent. Additionally, they estimate a decrease in the unemployment rate from 4 to 7 percent. Statehood, in the CBOís study, is represented mainly in terms of 936ís impact on the economy, assuming that the Puerto Rican government does not amend its economic development plan to compensate for 936 termination.
The same variables mentioned above were included in the CGE model and at comparable levels. The experimental design of the CBO model was unchanged, so that any variation would be attributable to differences in the functioning of the models. This process would yield a range of estimates of the economic effects of statehood, with an understanding of their limits.
The results from redoing the CBO study using the CGE model are, overall, less economically detrimental. For example, the projected decrease in gross product was 4.9 percent, compared to the 10 to 15 percent generated by the CBO model. The unemployment rate was shown to increase by only 1.7 percent, less than the CBOís 4 to 7 percent. The CGE model estimates an increase in the number of people unemployed of 15,000, while the CBOís estimate is 50,000 people.
The CBOís predicted results of section 936 phase-out are exaggerated due to the deficiencies of their macro-econometric model. When a general equilibrium model examines the same scenario, the negative economic impact is much more modest. The key difference between the two approaches is that the CGE model allows differences in input requirements, substitution possibilities, export/import intensiveness, ownership patterns, wages, price of capital, and adjustment of prices across sectors. Since there are significant differences between various industry sectors in Puerto Rico, the general equilibrium model is better suited to estimate the Puerto Rican economyís absorption and reaction patterns.
It is critical to note that both the CBOís macro model, and the general equilibrium model exclude policy changes that might be made in order to compensate for any detrimental economic effects of the section 936 phase-out. The projected negative consequences of this study could be readily overcome by countervailing measures available to the government of Puerto Rico and its responsive private sector.
Puerto Rico has recently started down a path to economic development that focuses on the islandís inherent advantages, rather than using tax incentives. These initiatives are encouraging, especially since the economy seems to be outperforming expectations in the face of section 936 repeal.
Current trends in economic reform in Puerto Rico have certainly not turned the island irreversibly from its prior development strategies. There is much that remains unchanged or only partially-changed, and the pace of change has been slow. However, the direction is positive. For example, unemployment, a chronic problem for Puerto Rico, has dropped from 16.3 percent in 1992 to 13.6 percent in 1996 and 12.8 percent in 1997. The following measures have been taken as the first steps along the path to sustainable development.
Privatization has long been urged for the public corporations in Puerto Rico. The government currently appears more serious about privatizing government operations and public corporations than at any time in recent history. At a minimum, recent initiatives appear to be taking the economy in a positive direction.
Since 1993, Puerto Rico has begun privatization through the sale of certain government assets: Navieras, the government shipping line; the Sugar Corporation; the Lotus pineapple and mango growing operations; Hostal El Convento; and Mayaguez Hilton Hotel & Casino. Two other asset sales are presently in their preliminary stages. The government plans to sell its 12 public hospitals and 84 diagnostic clinics, and the Telephone Authority is also for sale at an estimated value of $2.2 billion, although most experts agree the price will likely fall between $1 - $2 billion. Although it is conceivable that other public corporations, such as the Public Buildings Authority or the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, could undergo privatization, no action has begun on these projects.
The Puerto Rican government is also beginning to engage private contractors to conduct management and construction work previously done by the public sector. Examples include the Aqueduct and Sewer Authority's agreement with a private company for the management, operation, repair, and maintenance of waste and waste water treatment systems, and the Authority's construction and operating contract with a private consortium for a new pipeline to San Juan. The Electric Power Authority has recently established an agreement with private producers for power purchases, and the construction, maintenance and operation of two co-generating facilities. In addition, the Administration of Corrections' has also begun to sign operating agreements with private companies.
Current plans by Puerto Rican development agencies call for $9.5 billion in public infrastructure spending between FY 1997 and FY 2001 on strategic public works projects. The $9.5 billion is 53% higher than the $6.2 billion invested in the previous five years. This commitment to infrastructure investment will promote multi-sectoral growth, as all sectors will be able to take advantage of the expanded possibilities from new infrastructure. Specific initiatives have also been enacted to increase investment in the tourism industry, with a focus on targeting Latin America travellers. Additional tourism would augment the commerce and service sectors that will create an estimated one of every three new jobs in Puerto Rico.
Some initial steps have been taken to correct public sector efficiency problems. One set of efforts is focused on increasing the budget efficiency of the public sector. For example, agencies are no longer given the funds they request without question but now have to demonstrate results in order to receive funding. Other efforts are focused on reducing public sector employment. A plan to enact a voluntary retirement program for central government employees, modelled after the voluntary retirement efforts of public corporations, is in process. New hiring has also been reduced. Between voluntary retirement of current employees and restraint in new employment, the number of central government employees could be substantially limited.
A less benign view of Puerto Rico's public sector has contended that excessive government regulation in Puerto Rico actively disadvantages private sector initiatives. To this end, a "sunset" law is before the Legislature. If enacted, agencies would have to justify any regulations that are currently on the books. Any regulations which cannot be justified would be automatically eliminated. The purpose of such a reform is to remove burdensome regulations that hinder the private sector.
Tax reform efforts have centered around two goals: to ìestablish a more equitable tax structure that lowered tax ratesî and increase compliance with the tax code. The tax reforms of 1994 reduced marginal income tax rates for individuals. For example, the highest tax bracket for personal income taxes was reduced from 36 percent to 33 percent, and the lowest from 9 percent to 8 percent. Contrary to some expectations, the 1994 reforms did not lead to a decline in taxes, but actually led to an increase in tax revenues. The Puerto Rican Treasury reported a 13 percent increase in 1996 returns filed which led to an increase of 8.3 percent for individual income tax collections. Work has begun on the next round of tax cutting, anticipated in 1999.
Reducing tax rates has the additional benefit of reducing tax evasion. Tax evasion currently costs the Puerto Rican government an estimated $400 million annually. An estimated 100,000 people, or 21% of all filers, evade taxes through non-reporting or under-reporting their income. Reduced marginal tax rates are anticipated to reduce tax non-compliance to 16% by 2000. In contrast, tax evasion rates in the U.S. have remained relatively steady at 10%. Under statehood, the influence of the federal IRS would further reduce tax evasion to U.S.-comparable levels.
There are three specific efforts currently aimed at increasing compliance. The first would require that anyone renewing or obtaining certain licenses and registrations show proof of having filed a tax return; this would apply to drivers' licenses, auto and boat registration, and property registrations. The second would require the withholding of tax on lump sum payments of pensions at retirement. The third is the implementation of Pritas, the Puerto Rico Integrated Tax Administration System. This information system will allow standard-of-living analyses to be performed, which compare the reported income of a taxpayer to his or her purchases.
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