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Puerto Rico's Governor On Recovery Efforts And GOP Tax Plan


To hear the governor of Puerto Rico tell it, the prospects for his island's recovery just got worse. The American commonwealth is three months out from a hurricane. And as the holidays arrive, it still only has about 65 percent of normal electric power. Now Governor Ricardo Rossello sees a new problem. It's the tax bill passed by Congress this past week. The measure does away with a special tax status that brought a lot of business to Puerto Rico. The governor came to Washington, D.C., yesterday and talked with David Greene.

RICARDO ROSSELLO: The objective of this bill was to create more American jobs. Congress, you know, in a recent report, stated that Puerto Rican jobs are American jobs, that Puerto Rico should be included in any discussion because in the past, they were an afterthought, and that if any consideration could be given to incentives, then Puerto Rico should be incentivized. None of that happened. When you had a Congress going to Puerto Rico saying they wanted to help, the first opportunity they had to help, which was just by excluding Puerto Rico from this base erosion tax that's for foreign countries, they did not put that into the bill. So to me, it's unconscionable. Not only is Congress not leaving things as they are, but they're actually making it worse for Puerto Rico on the economic front.


Let me make sure I have this right. Part of this tax overhaul was to try and get companies to come back to or come to the United States...

ROSSELLO: That's right.

GREENE: ...And bring jobs there. You have attracted international drug and medical device companies and other companies to set up shop on the island because of a special tax status that now under this bill would be going away, and you're worried that higher taxes on these companies could actually drive them off the island. Is that - sum it up pretty well?

ROSSELLO: Yes, that's part of it. And the overall notion is why would you put a base erosion tax on a jurisdiction that's part of the United States?

GREENE: Why would you tell companies that they should move to the United States when they're already in the United States is what you're saying.

ROSSELLO: Yes, yes. And in the moment where we need more support in the aftermath of the hurricanes, it's just mind-blowing to think that an action could be taken against the economy in Puerto Rico as opposed to in favor of it.

GREENE: Has any company threatened to leave already, or is this just sort of an abstract fear at this point?

ROSSELLO: Well, we've had conversations with companies. Certainly, this won't happen overnight, but there are some companies, for example technology companies, that can move production or downloading out of Puerto Rico relatively quickly, which would have an impact not only in our economy but also in our revenue stream. Both of those would affect the ultimate outcomes of trying to put Puerto Rico on a fiscal recovery path and on an economic growth path.

GREENE: Governor, by saying that the Republicans and this tax bill are treating Puerto Rico unfairly, you know, that's a pretty serious charge. Could this have just been an oversight? I mean, you're already hearing some Republicans saying, you know, we're going to fix this, you know, as soon as possible in the new year.

ROSSELLO: Well, if it was an oversight, then, you know, actions speak louder than words. I am very much willing to concede I'm just skeptical. We've been talking about this for the past three months in Congress. It's not like we came the week prior to the tax reform. We knew what was evolving, and we wanted to make sure that all of the leadership in Congress knew that this would be a significant decision for Puerto Rico, and we wanted them to be on the right side of this.

GREENE: I just wonder - I mean, I look at a headline that ran in Politico, which is a publication a lot of people in Washington read. It said "Puerto Rico Governor Vows Midterm Revenge For Tax Bill." And I guess I just wonder, could this backfire on you given this president and given that you're attacking the Republican Party who just passed this tax bill at a moment when you need federal help for your island? Could this backfire on you?

ROSSELLO: Well, I hope it doesn't. That would be immoral. You would be taking action upon U.S. citizens that are in a very vulnerable position. But it is important that I state what I think is a travesty for the people of Puerto Rico. I mean, there's no other way to put it.

GREENE: Governor, I know you're very busy bringing your island back, shuttling from Puerto Rico to Washington. Thanks for including us on your schedule. We appreciate it.

ROSSELLO: Thank you. Thank you so much.

MARTIN: Our co-host David Greene talking there with Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.