Pro-statehood gubernatorial candidate leading in Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico teed up a post-bankruptcy campaign for statehood on Tuesday as a result of unofficial voter approval of a nonbinding statehood referendum along with the apparent victory of pro-statehood gubernatorial candidate Pedro Pierluisi.
Pierluisi, a member of the pro-statehood New Progressive Party, was leading by more than 12,000 votes with more than 95% of the votes counted, the Associated Press reported.
Pierluisi led his next closest challenger Carlos Delgado of the Popular Democratic Party that supports Puerto Rico’s current status. The two are among five candidates in the race to lead the U.S. territory as the successor to interim Gov. Wanda Vázquez Garced who lost an August primary.
Pierluisi had 380,704 votes, or 32.4% of the ballots counted to Delgado’s 368,369 votes, or 31.4%, according to the Puerto Rico State Commission on Elections.
Jenniffer González, Puerto Rico’s current non voting representative in the U.S. House and Pierluisi’s running partner, easily won a second term.
The referendum on U.S. statehood was leading with more than 52% support, with more than 95% of votes counted, the Associated Press reported.
Any chance for statehood, however, is dependent on a Democratic sweep of both chambers of Congress and the White House.
President Trump and the Republican-controlled Senate expressed opposition earlier this year to statehood legislation for the District of Columbia that passed the Democratic-controlled House on June 26 by a vote of 232-180.
The Trump Administration published a Statement of Administration Policy, indicating its opposition to District statehood on June 24, two days prior to the House vote.
In contrast, Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and Senate Democratic Minority Leader Chuck Schumer have gone on record as supporting statehood for Puerto Rico.
A Democratic administration and Congress could move legislation approving statehood for both Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia.
There’s no constitutional requirement for a referendum on the issue. But a majority of American voters recently indicated support for statehood for Puerto Rico and D.C.
In fact, 97.2% of Puerto Rico voters who participated in a June 2017 plebiscite preferred statehood compared to 1.5% who chose free association/independence and 1.3% who chose the current territorial status. But that 2017 referendum was considered flawed because many opponents of statehood stayed away from the polls and turnout was only 23% (approximately 518,000 of 2.3 million voters).
This week’s referendum was paired with a hotly contested gubernatorial election.
Public opinion on the U.S. mainland also supports statehood.
A September national poll of likely voters conducted by the New York Times/Siena College Research Institute found 59% of respondents in support compared to 26% who were opposed. Democrats favored it by 77% to 9% while Republicans were opposed by 51% to 33%.
"I happen to believe statehood would be the most effective means of ensuring that residents of Puerto Rico are treated equally, with equal representation at the federal level, but the people of Puerto Rico must decide, and the United States federal government must respect and act on that decision," Biden was quoted by CNN as saying in September while campaigning in Kissimmee, Florida.
The Puerto Rico Admissions Act introduced by Democratic Rep. Darren Soto of Florida in March 2019 has 21 bipartisan cosponsors, including five Republicans led by original cosponsor Jenniffer Gonzalez-Colon, Puerto Rico’s nonvoting resident commissioner in the U.S. House.
Democratic Reps. Nydia Velazquez and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, both from New York City, have proposed an alternative approach for a convention where delegates elected by Puerto Ricans, would develop an option for the island's status with the intent that it be voted on.
Soto told CNN that the convention would be unnecessary if statehood is approved in the referendum.
In the meantime, the Puerto Rico Financial Oversight and Management Board is struggling to complete work on a proposed central government debt restructuring plan while there are three vacancies on the seven-member board.
Deliberations on a debt plan were cut short last week when the newest board member, Justin Peterson, exited the virtual session to prevent the meeting from continuing through the loss of a quorum.
His departure left only three board members remaining at the meeting, preventing them from taking any further official action.
The board was considering a debt repayment plan for a range from $10.96 billion to $11.96 billion of $35 billion in central government debt, which is less generous than the February plan that was discussed prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The February board-approved plan of adjustment $15.2 billion for debt which is close to the Aug. 24 creditor proposal for $15.3 billion.
A contingency value instrument would cover the range. If sales and use tax revenues came in higher than projected in the board’s May fiscal plan, then 40% of the revenue would go to bondholders with a ceiling of $50 million per year for 20 years.
In the new proposal, bondholders would get $5.98 billion in cash and $4.98 billion in general obligation bonds maturing every year through fiscal year 2041. The proportions of cash and GO consideration are very similar to the Aug. 18 proposal.
Oversight Board Executive Director Natalie Jaresko said at last week’s meeting that Puerto Rico’s economic growth forecast has been lowered as a result of the pandemic.