Puerto Rico rep: Control board for island would be ‘dictatorship’

By Peter Schroeder - 11/17/15 10:27 AM EST

By Peter Schroeder – 11/17/15

Puerto Rico’s congressional representative blasted the idea of a federal board to oversee the territory’s troubled finances Tuesday, saying it would amount to a “dictatorship.”

Pedro Pierluisi (D), Puerto Rico’s nonvoting member of Congress, dismissed the idea floated in the Capitol as an unforgiveable breach on Puerto Rico’s autonomy, even as the territory turns to Congress for help steering through its unbearable debt load.

Some key Republicans, including Senate Judiciary Chairman Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), have suggested a federal board similar to the one used in the District of Columbia during the 1990s could help the territory reconcile its troubled finances.
But Pierluisi did not mince words in dismissing it.

“That would be a blatant exercise in colonialism like I haven’t seen in recent history,” he said Tuesday. “Whoever proposes that is going to be facing me, and facing anybody that believes in democracy in the world.”

Pierluisi made his comments at an event devoted to Puerto Rico’s finances, co-hosted by The Hill and The Capitol Forum.

That being said, Pierluisi said he was open to additional oversight of Puerto Rico, such as outside audits by the Government Accountability Office, in exchange for federal relief. Pierluisi and other Democrats are pushing legislation that would give Puerto Rico access to the same section of the bankruptcy code as states, making it easier for its political entities buried under massive amounts of debt to restructure it.

Puerto Rican officials have said the territory will not be able to pay back all of the $72 billion in debt it owes to investors, citing an ailing economy and an exodus of people to the mainland United States seeking work.

However, the push for bankruptcy access has been contested by investment firms holding Puerto Rican debt. Instead, they argue that Puerto Rico should be willing to make additional cuts to its finances to ensure debt is paid in full, even as officials dismiss those cuts as far too extreme.

And Republicans have been slow to embrace Puerto Rico’s plea, arguing that years of mismanaged finances led the territory to its current position.

But Pierluisi argued that Congress has an obligation to do what it can to help Puerto Rico and help avert deep cuts to public programs and services.

“’This is not a problem you can ignore. You have it within your country,” he said. “You’re talking about American citizens.”

Pierluisi added that he is looking for any opportunity to advance his Puerto Rico relief bill, including upcoming omnibus legislation to fund the government. Congress must pass a funding bill by Dec. 11 to avoid a shutdown.

“We’re working it,” he said. “We’ll see if on the Republican side of the aisle it starts getting traction.”

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