Thursday, April 11, 2013


Read: The President's Budget for Fiscal Year 2014

Puerto Rico Political Status Funding

The Administration’s Fiscal Year 2014 Budget proposes $2.5 million for voter education and a plebiscite in Puerto Rico on options that would resolve the fundamental question of the islands: the Commonwealth’s future political status.  

The funds would be appropriated to the Department of Justice to be granted to the Puerto Rico Elections Commission.  The monies could be used after the Attorney General has found a Commission plan that includes education materials and ballot options to be consistent with the Constitution and basic laws and policies of the United States. 

The Commission has equal representation from each of Puerto Rico’s political parties, with a president appointed by its governor.  For a status plebiscite under local law last November, the membership was increased to include representatives of each of status option.

A similar appropriation was proposed by the president and enacted into law by the Republican Congress in 2000 for a Puerto Rican status choice in 2001.  (It was not spent because the funds lapsed before a plan was developed.)

Further Background
The United States took Puerto Rico from Spain in connection with the Spanish-American War and Puerto Ricans have been granted U.S. citizenship since 1917.  But whether the territory will eventually become a State or a nation has not yet been finally determined.

The islands of 3.7 million people have been granted the exercise of self-governing authority similar to that possessed by the States but are only represented in the Federal government by a resident commissioner who has a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives with a vote only in committees. 

All of Puerto Rico’s political parties and status factions want a governing arrangement that is democratic at the national government level.

In a March 2011 report, the President’s Task Force on Puerto Rico’s Status found that the islands’ development needs were hindered by lack of resolution of the ultimate status question.  The issue also raises questions about the appropriate Federal policies related to Puerto Rico.

The Task Force also advised, as it did under President Bush, that Puerto Ricans should vote to determine their aspirations among the possible options for Puerto Rico’s status.  As Federal officials had reported before, it identified the possible options as -
  • A “Commonwealth” arrangement under which islands exercise local self-government but are subject to broad congressional governing authority under the Territory Clause of the Constitution, may be treated differently than States in Federal laws, and do not have voting representation in the Federal government.
  • U.S. statehood.                                                                                                           
  • Independence
  • Nationhood in a free association with the U.S. (similar to the arrangements that the U.S. has with the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, and Palau in the Pacific). 
 In the two-question, November 2012 plebiscite:                                                                                            
· 53.97% of the vote was against continuing the Commonwealth’s current territory status.           
· 61.13% of the vote was for Congress beginning a transition to U.S. statehood for Puerto Rico;
· 33.34% was for Puerto Rico becoming a nation in a free association with the U.S.; and
·   5.49% was for Congress beginning a transition of Puerto Rico to independence. 

Some opponents of statehood for Puerto Rico have disputed the results of the plebiscite.  Proceeding based on it alone is unlikely to resolve the issue. The Administration’s proposal would support another vote in Puerto Rico limited to Federally approved options and confirm the self-determination will of the people of Puerto Rico.  

More: PR status plebiscite in Obama budget