During a Facebook Live address on Sunday, Puerto Rico Senate president José Luis Dalmau —the head of the island’s status quo Popular Democratic party— said that the statehood preference in last November’s plebiscite was valid, but added that the Congress must directly address it and that public funds to lobby for statehood cannot be used by the government of Puerto Rico.
“I have the firm conviction that the vote in favor of statehood must receive a direct and honest response from the U.S. Congress and from all who have a responsibility for their consequences,” Dalmau said in Spanish. “Yet, what was never consulted with the people of Puerto Rico was the use of public funds that would pay for the exorbitant salaries of six people who will pretend to go to Washington and do the same functions that three past Resident Commissioner of the statehood party have been doing for the last 17 years. That would be to lobby in favor of the election. That spending item was never part of the ballot.”
According to Dalmau, what the plebiscite vote did conclude was a formal transition plan towards statehood admission. It also opened the door to confirm Puerto Rico is indeed an incorporated territory and not an unincorporated one, meaning that Puerto Rico should receive contributions for years without congressional representation. Dalmau went on to say that the plebiscite result gave the statehood push just one year for admission to occur. That means that Congress must respond to the plebiscite result by then, and Dalmau noted that eight months and one week remain for a response to occur.
After this point, Dalmau said that the island’s Resident Commissioner (a non-voting member of Congress) had to submit a formal statehood admission plan 30 days after the plebiscite.
“We would like to examine that plan,” Dalamu noted, “if it indeed exists.”
Such a plan, Dalmau explained, is critical because a sudden change in status would lead to how Puerto Rico’s government is funded, especially now that a fiscal control board is now the entity that manages Puerto Rico’s finances and deals with creditors.
“Disrupting the relationship between Puerto Rico and the United States is a serious topic and not a political game,” Dalmau said, noting that the government needs to be fully transparent in its status intentions.
“If statehood advocates deserve a response for its votes, then the rest of the country also deserves accurate information about the serious consequences of such a transcendental decision as a status change,” Dalmau added.
He then cited a GAO report from 2014, showing increased federal costs for Puerto Rico if it were to become a state and decreased revenue.
Dalmau cited that nobody who advocates for statehood has explained how would Puerto Rico’s debt payments be made under statehood since federal funds could not be used to pay for the current debt.
“That is why,” Dalmau said, “this topic can’t be rushed and it can’t be viewed through partisan lenses.”
Because of what he says is a lack of data and information, Dalmau announced five legislation actions he was planning:
- If Congress does not take action on recognizing the plebiscite result with the one-year time frame, Puerto Rico’s current legislative session has no other option to interpret that inaction as “an unequivocal refusal by Congress to the outcome of this vote.”
- A vote to reduce the budget of the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration by $1.25 million to not pay for the six statehood lobbyists with public funds. If Pedro Pierluisi, the governor of Puerto Rico and a statehood advocate, wants to pay for these six lobbyists to do the work of Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González, such funds would need to be paid by Pierluisi’ statehood political party, Dalmau said.
- A vote to pass a resolution asking Congress to answer the following questions: Did the November plebiscite comply with the 2014 directives on status from the Department of Justice? Does a statehood petition result in Puerto Rico first becoming an incorporated territory that would result in decades of federal contributions due to it for lack of congressional representation? Is Congress ready to annex a Latin American nation in the Caribbean that is Spanish-speaking, resulting in the United States having two distinct nations within its constitutional system? What would the transition be like and when would federal contributions paid by individuals and corporations begin? Will Congress recognize that 52% support from the plebiscite is sufficient for a consensus that would grant statehood to Puerto Rico?
- A vote to pass a resolution for the fiscal control board to submit a formal plan of how statehood would impact Puerto Rico.
- A vote on the creation of a status commission that looks at all status options besides statehood and one that, according to Dalmau, is representative of all members of Puerto Rico’s current legislative session.
Here is Dalmau’s full statement in Spanish:
As expected, Dalmau’s remarks led to an immediate Sunday response by Pierluisi, a governor who must deal with a Puerto Rico legislature led by an opposition party that does not favor statehood:
— Julio Ricardo Varela (@julito77) February 21, 2021
The governor said that Dalmau has essentially confirmed the plebiscite results for statehood. He then defended the use of public funds to hire six statehood advocates in Washington.
“Therefore, any action to enforce that will of the people is by definition a public purpose for which the government has the right, and the obligation, to use all its resources to make it viable,” Pierluisi said in Spanish. “To say that there is no public purpose to use public funds to advocate for Congress to respond to the claim of our people in these plebiscites is absurd and undemocratic.”
“It is surprising that the president of the Senate thinks that Puerto Rico should settle for a representative, effective and hard-working she is, but without a vote and only present in one of the bodies of Congress, to advocate for all the residents of our Island,” Pierluisi added. “That’s why we need those six additional people who advocate for the equality of every American citizen in Puerto Rico. And there is no requirement that a territory has to be an incorporated territory before being a state, and we who want equality want it to be complete, not just half.”
Here is the rest of Pierluisi’s statement translated from Spanish:
I agree that the ball in Congress’ court, but I remind the senator that even if it takes longer to answer, the will of our people does not have an expiration date. To say that you are going to ignore the desire for equality of our people is a lack of respect for each Puerto Rican man and woman who expressed themselves in last November’s elections. I also remind you that the rejection of the status plebiscite by the Department of Justice only retracts the use of federal funds for the consultation. In no way can the Department of Justice or Congress limit the democratic expression of a people, particularly its American citizens.
On the other hand, bringing back the tax fear as a reason to reject statehood is again bringing arguments from the past to answer issues of the present and the future. All the states of the United States improved their economies after becoming states, and Puerto Rico will be no exception. The amount of additional federal funds that the Island will receive will allow the reduction of its tax rates during the period of transition to Statehood so that our individuals and corporations do not receive a negative impact, and on the contrary, the majority of our people, in particular the workforce, will benefit greatly.
It is time to stop hampering statehood solely and exclusively because of federal contributions that would eventually have to be paid by wealthy taxpayers and corporations doing business on the island. There is nothing to prevent Congress from gradually applying those contributions while giving all residents of Puerto Rico the equal treatment they deserve in federal government programs. With what face is equal treatment demanded in federal programs such as Medicaid, Supplemental Income Insurance, nutritional assistance, and federal tax credits, while denying the right of our people to vote for the President and have voting representation? in the United States Congress? With what face do you tell the United States that Puerto Rico is a Latin American nation and ask it to treat us the same way as the states in their socioeconomic programs?
Enough of the hypocrisy or grasping at straws!
To make matters worse, the senator uses the fiscal plans and the impositions of the Fiscal Oversight Board as an excuse, when we all know that as a state, the first thing that will go away is the Board.
If we respect ourselves, we will accept once and for all that Puerto Rico has two paths before it: the path of equality as a state of the United States or the path of sovereignty as a nation independent from the United States. And no one can dispute that our people prefer to unite rather than separate from the United States.
I agree with Senator Dalmau that a change of status is a very serious matter, and beyond that, the democratic expression of a people goes above all else in our republican system of government. Therefore, any legislative action that is directed to ignore the will of our people will be rejected outright by this servant and must be rejected by all.
Both Dalmau and Pierluisi are expected to make more public statements throughout the week and beyond.