October 29, 1997
By Edwin J. Feulner, Ph.D.
Congressional leaders have come up with an idea that shows just
how in touch they are with the burning issues of the day: They want
to make Puerto Rico America's 51st state.
Say what? Yes, Puerto Rican statehood is once again a political
hot topic. The Puerto Rico Political Status Act is currently before
the House of Representatives. As in the past, I have but one simple
question for those lawmakers pushing vigorously for this
During the embarrassing silence that should follow, allow me to
provide a succinct list of "why nots."
1. Consider the financial burden Puerto Rican statehood would
create. In an era of government downsizing and balanced budgets, it
would increase entitlement spending (welfare, Medicare, Social
Security) by an estimated $3 billion per year, according to the
Congressional Budget Office.
Would tax revenue from Puerto Ricans paying federal
income taxes be enough to offset the added expense? With an average
per-capita annual income of about $7,600, few Puerto Ricans would
be required to pay any income taxes at all. The short answer:
2. Consider the cultural pitfalls-from both the American and
Puerto Rican perspectives. The island, as anyone who's been there
knows, has its own proud and distinctive culture-a culture rooted,
as most are, in its language. That language is Spanish. Despite the
efforts of a few divisive multiculturalists, the language of the
United States is English. The fact that 76 percent of Puerto
Ricans, according to a recent poll, thought it unacceptable that
English might become their language ought to set off more than a
few warning lights. Comprende?
We already have a fistful of problems here in the United States
because English has never been declared our official language
(though most Americans consider it so). Imagine the mess if 50 U.S.
states conducted their business in English and one-for
long-standing cultural reasons-in Spanish. For those who don't
think competing languages and the will of a people to protect their
culture can cause serious conflict, I have one word: Quebec.
3. The most compelling argument against Puerto Rican statehood
is this: Puerto Ricans themselves don't want it. So why are some
lawmakers pushing it?
In three referendum votes over the past three decades and in
recent opinion polls conducted by Puerto Rico's biggest newspaper,
El Nuevo Dia, the majority of Puerto Ricans have said they don't
want their island to be a U.S. state. But, this is not good enough
for backers of the Puerto Rico Political Status Act. If the Act
were passed by Congress, it would call for another referendum in
which Puerto Ricans would vote on whether the island should be
independent, remain a commonwealth, or become a state. But in an
effort to produce the numbers they want, the authors of the
referendum have worded it in such a way that Puerto Ricans can't
tell whether their U.S. citizenship would be preserved if Puerto
Rico remains a commonwealth. Of course, it would. Yet, the
referendum implies that citizenship only goes with the statehood
option. Nice trick.
What is going on here? It's a classic example of the
Washington-knows-best mentality at work. To those pushing for
Puerto Rican statehood let me offer a bit of homespun advice that
would serve them well.
If it ain't broke, don't fix it.
# # #
Note: Edwin J.
Feulner, Ph.D. is president of The Heritage Foundation
(www.heritage.org), a Washington-based public policy research
ED102997b: Do We Need a 51st State?
Edwin J. Feulner, Ph.D.
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