WASHINGTON.- While speaking at the grounds of the Heritage Foundation, governor Ricardo Rosselló highlighted yesterday the reforms he has promoted that in times of austerity and cutbacks, fit fairly well with the conservative agenda of that organization.
But he also raised the flag of political status, by defending the call to a plebiscite that his government has already had to legislate on twice –though the date is still uncertain,- with the idea of driving the proposal of making Puerto Rico the 51st state of the United States.
In his address, Rosselló narrated that he ran for governor convinced that “the government wanted to do a lot of things but couldn’t execute many of them.” “Our government is too big,” said the governor, when mentioning that it’s 131 without a good system of accountability.
“If you can find a service on the yellow pages, you have to question whether the government should offer it,” said Rosselló, drawing his first big round of applause, in a forum that included a good share of his pro-statehood allies.
Traditionally, representatives from conservative groups –such as the Heritage Foundation and the Cato Institute,- have been critical of the government of Puerto Rico and seen with reluctance the idea of the Island becoming the 51st state of the Union.
Rosselló, however, has made a recent effort to approach conservative audiences, including interviews with (TV) hosts at Fox network such as Tucker Carlson and Neil Cavuto.
When introducing the governor, the event’s moderator, Salim Furth, researcher of macroeconomic issues with the Heritage Foundation, specifically praised Roselló’s efforts to drive a reform on permits and labor relations. For Furth, in a country where only four out of every 10 persons are part of the labor force, labor related laws “have not helped workers.”
This same week, the Puerto Rico Legislature is discussing House Bill 938 which limits benefits to government workers, including vacation days and, for many, the contribution to the health insurance plan.
Rosselló said that, since arriving at La Fortaleza, 22 laws have been passed, he has driven seven structural reforms, and has strengthened Public Private Alliances.
Among the pending challenges, the governor mentioned the importance of increasing the impact of tourism on the economy.
And he said that, at a time in which Puerto Rico was imposed an Oversight Board that leaves in the hands of seven non-elected individuals the financial decisions of his government, he has as a short-term goal to “renegotiate the terms of the debt.”
Rosselló also defended in the conservative forum the demand by his government and the health industry for the United States to grant a new allocation for Medicaid, that replaces, albeit partially, the close to $1.2 billion that Obamacare has provided and which run out by the end of 2017.
“Before, the idea was to spend, to take loans and come to Washington and ask for a financial bailout. Instead, we are going to implement controls, we are going to create a solid plan, and we don’t want a financial bailout, but we do need help from the federal Government. Next year we are going to implement strategies to reduce health expenses by $300 million and we are proposing a new model to provide more options for patients, reducing the costs with greater supervision of vendors,” the governor said.
Rosselló pointed out that, in a letter sent to him on Tuesday, US Health secretary, Tom Price: told him he supports the idea that the federal government pass a bridge allocation of $900 million for fiscal 2017-2018, which would mean close to $600 million for the next budget (fiscal year) of Puerto Rico, which starts in July.
Hours later, US president, Donald Trump, in a simple twit, criticized that possible allocation and contradicted his Health secretary.
The Governor, meanwhile, stressed the efforts by his government to bring the US Department of Justice, by means of a 2014 federal statute, to support the plebiscite on status, he is still intent on calling for this year.
Following an initial rejection by the federal Department of Justice, the governor delivered this week the amendments to the law which, among other things, incorporates the “territorial status in effect” among the alternatives for status, together with statehood, and that of independence/free association.
“I support statehood because I not only believe that this is the best for the people of Puerto Rico, but rather because Puerto Rico can be a great ally for the United States. In this XXI century it is unthinkable that the United States should still have a colonial territory,” added Rosselló, who this week had meetings in Congress and in offices of the federal Executive, and closed his remarks delivered in English with the phrase, “the best is yet to come,” which branded one of the electoral campaigns of his father, former governor Pedro Rosselló.
Before delivering his remarks in the conservative research group’s auditorium, governor Rosselló met with the president of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFCSME), Lee Saunders, whose affiliate, United Public Servants (SPU, by its Spanish acronym), has censured the labor reform being put into practice in San Juan.
When his father drove the unionization of public employees, the AFCSME was one of his allies.
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