Posted by: William-José Vélez González | September 7, 2008

The Race to Washington-Caribbean Business

When asked what would be his priority in Washington if elected resident

commissioner, NPP candidate Pedro Pierluisi doesnt hesitate. According to
him, a sound economic public policy for Puerto Rico must be based on the
islands full integration into the national economy of the United States.

This integration cant be “halfway,” because that limits Puerto Ricos
potential to achieve the economic growth rate of the 50 states.

“We must stop looking at Puerto Ricos economic problems from a typical
insular perspective. They are the same problems the U.S. national economy is
facing. That is one of the reasons why it makes all the sense in the world
for Puerto Rico to receive statelike treatment in all federal programs,
among other things.”

More economic integration

“We have to become more integrated as a regional economy within the U.S.
economy. That will be my main priority. What is happening on the island in
terms of manufacturing-job losses is no different from what is happening
nationwide. We are competing with the world, and our economy is changing
alongside the national economy into a knowledge-based and service economy.”

Pierluisi argues that around the world nations are coming together.
Conglomerates, alliances and pacts among nations are becoming a reality
every day.

“In the United States, we have a federation of states that we can join and
leverage on the economies of scale of the most powerful nation in the world,
politically and economically.”

The first legislation he will pursue is “getting statelike treatment for
Puerto Rico in existing federal programs in which we arent participating or
have limited participation. I will work to fully insert Puerto Ricos
economy into the U.S. economy, fighting for statelike treatment” in all
economic federal programs and fund allocations.

“From Washington, I will work to advance our economic development, which is
vital to improve our quality of life. I will fight to insert Puerto Rico in
all legislation for job incentives and capital investment.”

Pierluisi also will make the case in Congress and with the new
administration in the White House that Puerto Rico “should get its fair
share of any economic incentive packages, like the one we saw this year,
regardless of whether we are paying federal income taxes or not. American
citizens residing in the territory dont have different needs than those
residing stateside.”

To help the economy and improve quality of life, Pierluisi said he will
continue to support the federal minimum wage to guarantee an appropriate
salary to workers in Puerto Rico and intensify efforts to include the island
in such tax incentive programs as the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), the
Child Tax Credit, the Enterprise Zones and the permanency of Internal
Revenue Code Section 199.

To advance infrastructure projects, Pierluisi plans to coordinate efforts
with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Environmental Protection Agency
(EPA), the U.S. Department of Transportation and others.

He also wants to insert Puerto Rico in all federal actions pertaining to
clean and renewable energy initiatives.

He wants to advance all issues pertaining to Vieques (land transfers and
cleanup) and the development of Roosevelt Roads. Pierluisi will support the
Port of the Americas in Ponce, which could be instrumental in the
development of the southern region.

Statelike treatment

“Most federal programs are needs-based, and there is no reason why four
million U.S citizens in Puerto Rico shouldnt be treated the same as the
four million Puerto Rican U.S. citizens or any other U.S. citizen residing
in the States, in the sense that they are facing the same needs as their
fellow citizens.”

“These eight million U.S. citizens have total freedom of movement within the
States and territories, including Puerto Rico. It makes all the sense in the
world from the federal policymaking standpoint for Puerto Rico to have good
economic development and quality of life. Otherwise, more and more of our
citizens will be moving to the mainland. From that perspective, the federal
government should be promoting job creation, investment and stability in
Puerto Rico.”

“Its coincidental, but telling, that just receiving equal or statelike
treatment in Medicaid will mean Puerto Rico will receive an additional $1
billion annually, which is approximately the size of the deficit we will
have next year. Just think what we can do in Puerto Rico by providing tax
relief and additional healthcare services to our poor.”

Puerto Rico residents are facing the same needs but receive unequal
treatment, he stated.

“If you were to add the potential benefits for Puerto Rico under statelike
treatment in just a few federal programs, such as Medicaid, Medicare and
Supplemental Security Income (SSI), we would add $3 billion to $4 billion a
year to our economy.”

The amount, he said, would be far greater when factoring in the multiplier
effect that would be created by those federal funds.

“I dont buy the statement that many of us dont pay federal taxes. We are
American citizens, can hop on a plane and be entitled to the same funding
programs that are available to the citizens in any state. By the same token,
a U.S. citizen born in one of the 50 states who gets on a plane and comes to
Puerto Rico loses the potential eligibility he or she previously had in
federal programs in the States.”

Doesnt believe in block grants

Pierluisi took issue with the Popular Democratic Party proposal to receive
the next 20-years worth of federal funding in a one-time block grant, to be
allocated locally by the Commonwealth government.

“Policymakers in Washington have developed over decades the basic details of
thousands of federal programs funded by taxpayers. What PDP leaders are
proposing means they will do away with the potential increase in federal
funds and will know better what to do with the money. Technically, what they
will be doing is freezing federal funding over time. They have it upside

Pierluisi doesnt believe in the concept of block grants. “For example, if
we were participating in the U.S. Food Stamp program on equal footing with
the rest of the states, we would be getting substantially more funds than we
currently receive.”

Pierluisi doesnt buy the argument that Puerto Rico should receive different
treatment than the 50 states. If that argument had any validity, each of the
50 states would be getting block grants, he figures.

Security and crime prevention

Pierluisi believes Puerto Rico should be included in all federal programs
for police equipment, education and technology, as well as such crime
prevention and law-enforcement initiatives as the crime bill and
High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (Hidta).

“I will be promoting alliances between all federal and local law-enforcement

Hidta enhances and coordinates drug-control efforts among local, state and
federal law-enforcement agencies.

The program provides agencies with coordination, equipment, technology and
additional resources to combat drug trafficking and its harmful consequences
in critical regions of the United States.

Pierluisi also wants to more fully develop the Community Oriented Policing
Services (COPS) for the island.

The NPP candidate will request additional federal funding in support of
crime victims, particularly those considered vulnerable, such as battered
women and children and sexual abuse survivors.

He also will work to fund such technical assistance for the Puerto Rico
Police Department as a computerized archive of criminal histories and an
Information System of Criminal Justice.

He will insist on getting access to federal training for local
law-enforcement and correctional officers.


Pierluisi plans to oversee the correct use and distribution of all
education-related federal funds and support full implementation of such
programs as No Child Left Behind and Reading First.

He will support programs to involve the community sector with the
public-school system and will try to secure funds for municipalities that
enter the public-school system.

Pierluisi supports bilingual education and plans to solicit federal funds
for the expansion of bilingual programs.

He also wants to expand island schools participation in physical-education
programs, sports programs on the community level, obesity prevention and
education programs that promote healthy lifestyles.

He will provide special attention to Special Education, which could include
working on legislation in accordance with the Individuals with Disabilities
Education Act (IDEA), which governs how states and public agencies provide
early intervention, special education and related services to children with

Social justice and health

“We must work toward eliminating the cap on Medicaid funding and achieve
parity in Medicare payments to patients and reimbursements to providers and

He said he will “fight for the inclusion of Puerto Rico in the Supplemental
Security Income (SSI) program and insert Puerto Rico in all discussions of a
U.S. national health plan.”

The SSI program makes payments to low-income seniors age 65 or older and to
the blind and disabled.

Even though the Social Security Administration manages the program, SSI is
paid with U.S. Treasury general funds, not with Social Security taxes.

Pierluisi also wants funding for the construction of a trauma center in the
islands western region and to fight for equal treatment of Puerto Rican
veterans, including improvements to the Veterans Hospital in San Juan,
construction of a new hospital and a new cemetery for vets in Aguadilla.

He wants more funding in favor of crime victims from programs such as the
Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) and the crime bill.

He also plans to promote assisted living for the disabled and elderly
through the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) and special programs to
mitigate the effects of aging, including funding for long-term care centers.

VAWA has provided more than $4 billion to combat domestic violence, stalking
and sexual assaults nationwide.

Pierluisi said he will work for additional federal funding for such programs
as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).

This program provides assistance and work opportunities for needy families
by granting states and territories federal funds and wide flexibility to
develop and implement their own welfare programs.

The assistance is time-limited and promotes work, responsibility and

He also plans to work to expand access to the Section 8 housing-voucher
program and the Federal Income Tax Credit program for low-income housing.

Biography—Pedro Pierluisi

Pedro R. Pierluisi was born in 1959 in San Juan. He attended Colegio Marista
in Guaynabo a year ahead of his running mate and NPP gubernatorial candidate
Luis Fortuño. In 1981, he obtained his bachelors degree from Tulane
University and his Juris Doctor from George Washington University (GW) in
Washington, D.C. in 1984.

While at GW, Pierluisi was president of the Puerto Rico Statehood Students
and interned at the congressional office of then Resident
Commissioner Baltasar Corrada del Río. Pierluisi first practiced law at the
law firm of Cole & Corette in Washington, D.C. from 1984 to 1990.

In 1993, Gov. Pedro Rosselló appointed Pierluisi secretary of Justice.
Pierluisi served as Justice secretary until the end of Rossellós first term
(1993-1996) alongside fellow cabinet member Luis Fortuño, who served as
Tourism Co. executive director & secretary of Economic Development &
Commerce during the same period.

Pierluisi returned to private practice in 1997 as a partner in the local law
firm ONeill & Borges. On May 18, 2007, Pierluisi announced his candidacy
for resident commissioner and, on March 9, won the NPP primary with 61% of
the vote against two opponents.

Pierluisi endorsed Illinois Sen. Barack Obama for the Democratic Party
nomination for U.S. president and served as co-chair of Obamas campaign in
Puerto Rico, positioning Pierluisi as a potentially influential Puerto Rican
if the Democrats win the White House.


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