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THE SAN JUAN STAR
Thanks to the PDP, Puerto Rico's Free Lunch Will Soon
by Miriam Ramirez de Ferrer
January 7, 1999
©Copyright 1999 The San Juan Star
While 97.5 percent of Puerto Ricans overwhelmingly rejected
separation from the US in the December plebiscite, 45.2 percent
of the electorate chose statehood as the path that would irrevocably
integrate the island into the American system. Yet alarmingly,
but not altogether unforeseen, 50.2 percent decided not to decide
on how to reconcile perpetuating their US citizenship with the
political imperative of achieving constitutional equality with
all other Americans.
What prompted this indecision? It would be easy to conclude,
as the PDP claims, that the majority in voting for "None
of the Above" rejected statehood for the status quo territorial
commonwealth. But while such a facile reading of the election
results would be convenient it would also be dangerously misleading.
Make no mistake about it, the prospect of federal taxation
for Puerto Rico's elite, not the voter's preference for the status
quo tipped the scales against an outright statehood triumph on
December 13th. Paying little or no taxes under the porous Hacienda
collection apparatus, the wealthy five percent among us feared
the efficiency of the Internal Revenue Service more than they
The tax card was skillfully played by the PDP and Rafael Hernandez
Colon in the waning days of the campaign, enough so as to confound
polls and pollsters who just a week before the plebiscite predicted
a first time statehood win. Enough "converts" or backsliders
abandoned principle for principal and provided the last minute
surge that put "None of the Above" over the top.
If under these circumstances a majority for the fifth column
can be considered a victory for the status quo, as the PDP claims,
then such a triumph will eventually prove to be both hollow and
will, ultimately, sew the seeds of its own demise: this "best
of both worlds" status long touted by its proponents. For
having artfully raised the specter of federal taxation as the
curse of statehood, commonwealth advocates have rubbed the noses
of American taxpayers in the more than $10 billion yearly Puerto
Rican subsidy, inviting re-evaluation of the "something for
nothing" philosophy that has served as the PDP's underpinning
over these past 45 plus years.
And this reassessment, already heralded by Chairman Don Young
of the House Resources Committee, may well invite retribution.
Retribution in the form of federal taxation of US citizens, all
US citizens, residing in Puerto Rico. How to explain to the American
taxpayer forced to experience budget balancing cuts in mainland
programs and services the boasts of some of Puerto Rico's leaders
that their island territory should enjoy the largesse of the federal
treasury without its financial obligations?
Thus, having leveraged the fear and loathing of IRS monitored
federal taxation accompanying statehood, the PDP now finds itself
-- and Puerto Rico -- vulnerable to stateside forces aiming to
turn the best of all world's into the worst of all world's! Limited
federal benefits, no congressional voting representation and full
Having balked throughout the three year long Young Bill process
at negotiating a constitutionally based status quo arrangement
that might have balanced on-going federal benefits against some
form of island fiscal offsets, the PDP saw short term gain in
amalgamating a dwindling commonwealth base with anti-Rossello
forces topped off by tax dodgers. And, while this group of 'anti's'
may have slowed the statehood momentum its long range effect will
accelerate the drive towards entry into the Union.
Congress no doubt has the power under the Territorial Clause
to unilaterally impose federal taxes in Puerto Rico. Once this
power is exercised, and the PDP has created the atmosphere in
Washington and among constituent voters throughout the nation
to take such action, we in Puerto Rico will become inured to the
idea and practice of paying our fair share for the benefits that
US citizenship provides.
More importantly, the tax avoidance constituency will disappear
in the wake of IRS enforcement. It will be replaced with a growing
majority, then super majority, demanding representation in the
national government in exchange for taxation. The Boston Tea Party
will spill over into San Juan Bay.
Sounds like statehood to me.
In sum, what the PDP sought to avoid in the plebiscite, an
outright victory for statehood, will eventually come to pass as
a result of its raising the tax issue and thereby inflaming Congress
and the American people to redress the ingratitude and hypocrisy
of the Puerto Rico electorate.
Washington will take away our 'free lunch' as Young and his
congressional colleagues investigate the implications and causes
of the 'None of the Above' results. Spurred on by their stateside
constituents legislation will almost certainly be introduced and
passed to make us carry our own weight fiscally.
Once having achieved the dubious distinction of first class
US citizenship tax-wise -- thanks to the PDP, full and equal American
citizenship as residents of the fifty-first state will almost
certainly soon follow thereafter as sure as night follows day.