- The Washington Times - Monday, September 24, 2007

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

The push for Puerto Rican statehood is soon to get new life in Washington. In the coming weeks, Congress will consider the Puerto Rico Democracy Act, which sets the island on a course for statehood. Naturally, that’s not how the bill’s backers describe it. But the series of carefully arranged plebiscites set out in the bill minimize the wishes of the 45 percent or so of Puerto Ricans who favor keeping the status quo, and emphasize the similar number who want statehood.

Statehood for Puerto Rico, like statehood for the District of Columbia, is a solution in search of a problem. The 4 million Puerto Ricans enjoy U.S. citizenship, are exempt from U.S. income taxes (but not payroll taxes) and enjoy many of the public benefits of residents of the 50 states. The statehood issue is the dominant one in island politics, and over the years, while neither side has built a majority, on four occasions since the 1950s voters have rejected both statehood and independence. Enough Puerto Ricans have considered the commonwealth a good deal for long enough to sustain the status quo. The only complaint is that Puerto Rico has only a “resident commissioner” in Washington, who, like the representatives of the District of Columbia, Guam or American Samoa, cannot vote in Congress.

Americans of the 50 states see few reasons to change the status quo. A Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll taken in June finds that 34 percent of Democrats and 30 percent of Republicans prefer making Puerto Rico the 51st state, while 44 percent of Democrats and 52 percent of Republicans favor keeping commonwealth status. Twelve percent of Democrats and 8 percent of Republicans favor independence, and 20 percent said they don’t know.

So, where’s the crisis? The likely demographic and economic effects of statehood are disputed, but since Puerto Rico is significantly poorer than most of the states and already bears a high tax burden, the imposition of federal income tax would likely prompt a flight to America by professionals and wealthy Puerto Ricans. In a territory whose economy seems to have turned the corner, this would be disastrous.

The present arrangement is working. The burden of proof in arguments to change this lies with statehood advocates. Such proof is not likely to emerge. What’s likely is more of the demagoguery we heard in the arguments for giving the District of Columbia a voting representative in the House. Advocates called Republican opponents who objected on constitutional grounds little short of bigots and racists. Since nothing is broken in Puerto Rico, there’s nothing to fix.

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