Column: Will Puerto Rico become the 51st state?

Posted on Jun 15 2017 - 8:53am by Nestor Delgado

For the second time in five years, voters throughout the United States’ territory, Puerto Rico, went to the polls in support of statehood with a vote of 97 percent. Although the vote was an overwhelming majority, the question must be asked, will Puerto Rico really become a state?

According to the Hill, “Puerto Rico previously voted in favor of becoming a state in 2012, but statehood opponents said the voter turnout was not high enough to accurately reflect will of the Puerto Rican people (voter turnout was 23 percent). Some fear that they will make the same case this time around.”

When the Governor of Puerto Rico, Ricardo Rossello, enacts the Tennessee Plan, the formality to accession when U.S. territories are able to send a congressional delegation to demand to be seated in Washington, two things will be on the mind of Congress: money and majority.

First order of business, money.

NPR reported on the first of the many hearings to come regarding Puerto Rico’s $123 billion debt that the islanders are currently struggling with as well as Associated Press reporting on the proposed $500 million cuts to the Puerto Rican university system that led to a three month student strike ending with the university president and other top-level officials resigning.

It is fair to say that President Trump’s tweet back in April stating “The Democrats want to shut government if we don’t bail out Puerto Rico and give billions to their insurance companies for OCare failure. NO!” shows that the GOP, rightfully so, would be unwilling to ‘bail out’ Puerto Rico.

So in regards to money, Puerto Rico will get a big thumbs down from Washington as the GOP will seek to use Puerto Rico’s debt restructuring board, which has jurisdiction from Chairman Rep. Rob Bishop’s (R- Utah) House Natural Resources Committee, as a viable alternative.

Second order of business, majority.

As of the current makeup of the 115th Congress, Republicans currently hold 52 of the 100 seats in the Senate and 239 of the 435 seats in the House of Representatives.

With a slim marginal voting advantage ahead of the Democratic Party, it wouldn’t make sense for a Republican controlled Congress, at least in the present moment, to allow Puerto Rico to become a state as they would essentially be adding two Democratic Senators as well as five Democratic Representatives which would decrease the GOP’s legislative power.

This is once again another thumbs down from Washington to Puerto Rico.

Puerto Rico statehood advocates should have capitalized on the initial 2012 victorious vote because with their $123 billion debt crisis and a Republican majority in Congress, I don’t expect Puerto Rico to become the 51st state of the United States of America for quite some time.

Nestor Delgado is a junior public policy leadership major from Pascagoula.