Looks Good Depending on Who's Writing
For some, the Governor of Puerto Rico, Luis Fortuño-Burset has done a stellar job in stabilizing the island's economy. For others, he had used his title to further his political and personal aspirations within the Republican Party.
Let's consider the evidence:
Upon entering office in January 2, 2009 with an 11% margin of voters, Governor Fortuño declared a Fiscal Emergency under Law 7 firing 17,000 workers (other sources report more than 30,000) in an effort to cut government spending by 20 percent. Workers represented by the Central Federation of Workers and others filed a lawsuit in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit.
After this, Fortuño welcomed the private sector under the premise that the private sector would do a "cheaper and better job". Currently there is an impasse in negotiations in agencies like the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, a government-owned corporation and only energy supplier in the island. Employees demand that they cannot do their job because private firms contracted by the government are performing these tasks at a higher cost to the public.
This is part of what Fortuño called his "Fiscal Stabilization Plan". The Government fired thousands of workers and later hired others with less experience, unbeknownst to unsettled Puerto Ricans.
Before his tenure, in March 2007, Standard and Poors downgraded Puerto Rico credit rating from BBB to BBB-/stable. Puerto Rico had a deficit of $556 million attributed to "lax expenditure controls and balooning payroll". In 2006 the Government shut down for two weeks. This was under the administration of indicted (and later found innocent) former Governor Aníbal Acevedo Vilá. By the end of 2009 Puerto Rico had a deficit of almost $4 billion. This was the result of a snowball effect of “irresponsible spending and borrowing” as former Carlos Romero-Barceló (Puerto Rico governor 1977-1984) describes.
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The Real Deficit in Puerto Rico is Lack of Jobs
In October 2011, a group of Puerto Rican economists denounced that the real deficit is lack of jobs. The group integrated by José I. Alameda, Alfredo González Martínez, Jeffrey Valentín Mari, José García López and José Toral expressed their findings under the title: “Analysis and Proposals in the Creation of Employments in Puerto Rico”. Between 2006 and 2010 Puerto Rico has lost 174,000 jobs, “the highest in 40 years”. Up to 2011 the amount of jobs lost is of 189,000.
Members of minority political parties like the Puerto Rico Independent Party government candidate Juan Dalmau-Ramírez, agrees. He claims that by 2006, there were 1,270,000 workers in the island, reduced to 1,070,000 in October 2010.
“If during fiscal year the employment rate was 42.6% and in 2011 was 34.6%, that depression implies a productive cost of $6,800 million, or 10% of the Gross National Product.” Unemployment rate in the island is 16.4%.
Economists related how lack of employment is the basis for other social problems; it could take up to 23 years to recoup these lost jobs, if ever. Taking these numbers into account, Puerto Rico unemployment is at a staggering 40%. Puerto Rico loses about 500 professionals on a monthly basis. Facts like these are difficult to get from media like Fox or the Wall Street Journal.
WSJ reports that Fortuño reforms “have paid off”. Relating how the Governor is helping the poor by awarding contracts to build a road from San Juan to Hatillo and Aguadilla, and taking advantage of $878 million in federal funds for the modernization of 100 schools.
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What the WSJ did not report was that, in order for the Governor to take advantage of these funds reserved for school modernization, which had a due date, he approved the removal of students violently interrupting their normal school year. An example of this is the public high school Pedro Falú Orellano, in Río Grande municipality (county). Students in their senior year were stripped from the traditional graduation and Senior Prom to be relocated on a moment’s notice because the school was now to be remodeled. The students were sent to different schools, including junior high schools. This was a traumatic experience for these teens, including one of them trying to commit suicide.
The social aspect of restructuring the Island’s economy is not a matter of consideration. In his last message to the island the Governor implied that the reason for such a high crime rate was mainly due to lack of cooperation with the Police. He did not consider the lack of standardized curriculum in public schools, especially in areas where school desertion is high.
He also did not talk about the cost of crime both for society and the family of the victim, an estimated $150 billion during 2000-2010. The socioeconomic effects of crime are not highlighted. Only numbers matter, and crunching them as soon as possible. On December 19, 2011 the Puerto Rico Institute of Statistics reported how, since 1998 the Puerto Rico Police Statistics Department has reported almost 10% less homicide cases than their counterparts in the Forensics Institute. In 2010, the Police reported a total of 983 type I murder cases, while the Institute reported 1,040. The Institute reported 961 for 2009 and 874 for 2008. In each year, the Police reported an average of minus 50.
He failed to relate in this message why he had not yet honored the raise in salary he promised to the Police that he accuses Puerto Ricans of not supporting. Some police members even report to have receive less than what they earned. The Government called that an adjustment, people thought he meant a raise.
The GOP seems deaf to the cases of unprecedented government oppression under Fortuño administration. The 92 mile pipeline (Gasoducto or Vía Verde) approved in spite of multiple manifestations, special property taxes (allegedly temporary), the $800 fee imposed on state public university students, protested massively by students and other movements, the Government explaining that when they spoke about raising the Police salary what it meant was adjusting it. The same goes for teachers, the Governor did not relate in his message about his promise to raising their salaries, or maybe he also meant adjusting. There are still 30,000 teachers in the island assigned to permanent positions, receiving a base pay of $1500 per month, waiting for their approved increase.
Fortuño reduced his own salary by 30%. He got a tax refund of $7,503 in 2010. In 2009 he had to pay $3,217. He took office in January 2009.
Fortuño is the first Republican to be elected Governor of Puerto Rico since 1969, the second since 1949. The first one was Luis A. Ferré (1904-2003), who governed the island between 1969 and 1972 and died 99 years of age. Fortuño flirted with the idea of becoming president for the GOP, will settle for vicepresident. Just wondering how will that help the poor.