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Thanks to the PDP, Puerto Rico's Free Lunch Will Soon Be Over

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 fancied commonwealth.

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 federal taxation!

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.

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