What Is the Rush with Puerto Rico Statehood Vote?

I never thought I would link to a Huffington Post article, but here goes, an article by Rep. Luis Gutierrez:

H.R. 2499, the Puerto Rico statehood bill was brought to the House this week after a surprise announcement last Thursday. Debate on this bill has been severely limited by the way Democratic Leaders are managing the process. Democratic Puerto Rican Members of Congress are being shut out of the process and will be severely limited in their ability to debate the bill and offer amendments. Under the current Democratic Leadership, there will be less opportunity for Members and for the people of Puerto Rico to gain a better understanding of the bill.

So, what is up with this Puerto Rico statehood bill?  click here for rest of article

When I check at OpenCongress, H.R. 2499 shows 181 co-sponsors.

I received this in my email that Trent Franks will not be voting for H.R. 2499

Does H.R.  2499 follow precedent on how Alaska and Hawaii were admitted as  states?

No, it  doesn’t.

Alaska and  the Hawaii were the last two states admitted to the Union, and are the only  two non-contiguous states.   Both states followed a similar process  to achieving statehood.

First, in  some manner, each conducted its own local plebiscite/referendum of residents  on statehood – and both passed with  strong majorities.  It was then, after the self-initiated request for  statehood, that Congress responded.  Congress then wrote and passed an  Admissions Act that articulated and dictated the conditions and requirements  for statehood.  For both Alaska and Hawaii, the Admissions Acts included  a straightforward ballot to be put to a vote of residents that included the  question: “Shall  Alaska/Hawaii immediately be admitted into the Union as a State?” 83% of  Alaskans cast votes in favor, and 94% of Hawaiians voted in  favor.

The  process for both Alaska and Hawaii involved self-initiated local votes with  strong majorities expressing the desire to become a state, and only then  Congress passing an Admissions Act laying out what statehood would mean, which  included a Congressionally-sanctioned and directed vote of residents on  accepting or rejecting statehood.  The responses were overwhelming  majorities

In H.R.  2499, this process is backwards.

Despite  the fact that Puerto Rico could conduct its own local plebiscite as did Alaska  and Hawaii, a Congressionally-sanctioned vote is sought first.  This vote  is not a straightforward question on statehood, but rather a complicated  two-step process.  Furthermore, Congress is asking Puerto Rico in this  complicated way if it wishes to be a state without a clear understanding of  the implications of statehood and conditions that would be required to join  the Union.  In addition, the two-step process creates a situation where a  mere plurality could choose statehood as the “winner”, receiving as low as 34%  of the vote.

BOTTOM-LINE: H.R. 2499 deviates  strongly from the precedent and process used to admit Alaska and Hawaii as  states.  If a Congressionally-sanctioned plebiscite is sought first in a  manner directly contrary to the Alaska and Hawaii precedent, as H.R. 2499  does, then Congress has an obligation to at the very least ensure there is an  open, thorough understanding of what statehood would mean to Puerto Rico and  the existing 50 states – but that is not at all happening in the  House.

Wouldn’t the  increased spending be offset with increased tax collection from Puerto  Rico? It is true that residents of Puerto Rico  currently do not pay federal income tax on income earned in Puerto Rico.   However, it is not known how much would be collected in such taxes.  If  Puerto Rico were to become a state, it would rank as the poorest in the nation  and have the lowest percentage of its population in the workforce.   Puerto Rico’s personal income per capita is $14,237—by comparison,  Mississippi, the nation’s current poorest state, has a personal income per  capita of $30,399 resulting in only 43% of Mississippi residents paying  federal income taxes.

BOTTOM-LINE: While the annual cost  of statehood for Puerto Rico is at a bare minimum $4-7 billion per year, how  much a new state would cost in higher spending and how much in new taxes would  be collected shouldn’t be the determining factor in whether statehood is  granted.  Yet it is absolutely information that Congress should have  before voting on this bill.  If Congress is going to ask Puerto Rico if  they want to be a state, which is what H.R. 2499 does, then Congress has a  duty to understand beforehand what that means and what it will cost the  taxpayers and existing states.  This information could be calculated and  made available, but that is not being done.  Without this  information, H.R. 2499 should not be passed.

How would  Statehood for Puerto Rico affect the apportionment of House  seats?

According to a report by the Congressional Research Service  (CRS), if Puerto Rico were to become a state, based on a population of  approximately 4 million, they would be entitled to six seats in the House of  Representatives.  As a state, they would, of course, receive two  Senators.

The  current number of 435 seats in the House of Representatives was set by the  Apportionment Act of 1911.  For nearly a century, the permanent number of  seats hasn’t changed.

If  Puerto Rico were to become a state, Congress would either have  to:
1. Reapportion the 435 seats by  giving six to Puerto Rico and subtracting seats from other  states;
2. Temporarily increase the size of  the House until the next reapportionment following the next census;  or
3. Permanently increase the size of  the House.

Based  on current information, a CRS report projects that the states that could lose  an existing seat or not receive an expected additional seat after the 2010  Census in order to provide six of 435 seats to Puerto Rico include: Arizona, Missouri, New York, South  Carolina, Texas and Washington.

BOTTOM-LINE: If Congress is going to  ask Puerto Rico if they want to be a state, as H.R. 2499 does, then Congress  has an obligation to address, in advance, the question of apportioning House  seats.  The public deserves to know whether their state could lose  representation to provide six of 435 House seats to Puerto Rico, or whether  their proposed solution is that the nation needs  more Members of Congress than it has  today.


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