ED102997b: Do We Need a 51st State?

COMMENTARY Political Process

ED102997b: Do We Need a 51st State?

Oct 29, 1997 2 min read
Edwin J. Feulner, Ph.D.

Founder and Former President

Heritage Trustee since 1973 | Heritage President from 1977 to 2013

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 legislation: Why?

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: No.

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.

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Note: Edwin J. Feulner, Ph.D. is president of The Heritage Foundation (www.heritage.org), a Washington-based public policy research institute.