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Proposed Changes for Puerto Rico Are Before the Congress

by Leonor Mulero

October 16, 1998
©Copyright 1998 El Nuevo Día

WASHINGTON - Two congressmen introduced their own bills regarding the extension of Federal Income Tax to the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, and English requirements for Puerto Ricans to receive federal funds such as Pell Grants.

Although they will have to be resubmitted in the 106th Congress which begins in 1999, the bills illustrate the type of debate on congressional status which is expected after the Dec. 13 plebiscite. The bills were submitted discretely in the last moments of this Congress.

Bill HR 4769, introduced by Republican representative Phil English of Pennsylvania, is entitled, "Fiscal Equity and Responsibility for Puerto Rico". It requires that the Secretary of the Treasury indicate all measures which would be necessary in the event that Congress should decide to phase in the payment of federal taxes by residents and corporations of the Commonwealth.

However, though it does not mention the word "incorporation", this bill deals with mechanisms which would lead to Puerto Rico being incorporated into the United States. Statehood is the traditional step which follows incorporation.

English's bill requires that a report be filed on the current tax system of Puerto Rico and the way in which tax revenues are distributed. The study includes changes which would be necessary to the local tax law in the event Congress decides to include Puerto Rico in the federal taxation system.

The Pennsylvania congressman wants an exhaustive study of federal spending in the Commonwealth. He also wants a study of the alternatives available to the federal government in order to phase in federal taxation on the island. The idea is that, after a period of transition, the federal government will collect taxes that equal, or exceed, Puerto Rico's federal spending.

Bill HR 4766, introduced by Republican representative Dan Burton of Indiana, requires the U.S. Secretary of Education to conduct a study and submit a report on recommendations for measures which would be implemented in the event Congress mandates to restrict, or put conditions on, the availability of federal aide directed at Puerto Rico's educational system. This would include English-language requirements to receive Pell Grants, according to Burton's bill.

"If Puerto Rico opts to become a State at some future date, it will have to comply with the national English language policy, and if independence is the ultimate status of Puerto Rico, then English should be strongly promoted as a universal language of economic and social empowerment," states Burton's bill.

The bill requires that the federal Department of Education study the availability of educational instruction in English to Puerto Rican students under the Commonwealth.

"The purpose of this legislation is to require the Secretary of Education to develop policy recommendations throughout the next decade to address the unique language education problems in Puerto Rico without delay to ensure that student citizens there have an opportunity to learn, master, use and promote the English language to obtain an equal footing with global competitors," asserts the bill.

The Secretary of Education must submit the first study on language to Congress no later than 60 days after the bill becomes law. The study is to be repeated annually over a 10 year period.

In his Bill, Burton states that Congress supports the efforts of the various sectors of Puerto Rico to make the English language available to Puerto Rican students.

"The Government should ensure that it is not subsidizing an education system in which student citizens of the United States in Puerto Rico...who want greater access to English language education are denied that opportunity," the bill states. It point out that the U.S. government provides more than $10 billion each year to the Puerto Rican Commonwealth. A significant part of those funds go toward education, the bill states.

CLICK HERE for Bill HR 4769

CLICK HERE for Bill HR 4766

CLICK HERE for related article, The San Juan Star


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