As Puerto Rico Moves To Polls For US Statehood, Prospects Seem Bleak Raising Questions On Affordability

Danica CotoAP Images

Puerto Rico residents head to the polls Sunday to vote on whether the island should become the 51st U.S. state, a prospect that the island’s pro-statehood governor Ricardo Rossello has been promoting as a way to help solve the island’s crippling debt crisis.

But the credibility of the vote has been dented by a boycott staged by all the main opposition parties, including those who want to uphold the status quo and those who want to make a break for full independence. Naturally, statehood supporters are expected to dominate the vote. Just how impactful the plebiscite will be depends on how many of the 2.3 million Puerto Ricans who are registered to vote can be persuaded to turn up to vote, and within that figure, what percentage opts for U.S. statehood.

Congress has final say over whether to approve the outcome of the referendum that offers voters three choices: statehood, free association/independence or the current territorial status.

But the endeavor faces an uphill battle. The U.S. territory has been shuttering schools and cutting pensions, while watching its residents flee to the U.S. mainland in search of work and its government forced to adhere to an oversight board’s dictates. The cost of this poll on the referendum is estimated to be between eight to eleven million dollars at a time when the island is in the middle of an economic crisis.

The government is wrestling with a formidable $73 billion debt and is currently in the courts under a U.S. federal district judge trying to negotiate a form of bankruptcy process. As a U.S. territory and not a state, the island cannot file for bankruptcy like other states’ municipalities.