I recently visited my wife’s family in Puerto Rico. I returned home with a better understanding of Republicans’ anger over the enormous amount of federal aid given to Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory whose residents don’t pay federal income taxes. Though not a majority, a significant number of the Puerto Ricans I’ve observed don’t care about learning English, the Pledge of Allegiance or the national anthem.
Whether Puerto Rico becomes a state — a presidential task force this month recommended that the U.S. territory hold a referendum on its relationship with the United States — is beside the point. As long as Puerto Rico and its residents receive U.S. aid and enjoy the benefits of U.S. citizenship, they should pay federal income taxes in addition to the Social Security and Medicare taxes they already pay.
The United States provided Puerto Rico with $21.4 billion in aid and benefits in 2009, according to the Consolidated Federal Funds Report compiled by the U.S. Census Bureau. The total for 2010 likely will reach $25 billion, not counting about $4.4 billion in stimulus funding and $430 million in rum rebates that Puerto Rico annually receives from the U.S. Treasury. The amount that the U.S. spends on Puerto Rico will increase significantly over the next 20 years, probably hitting $35-40 billion.
Though Puerto Ricans pay federal taxes on income generated outside of Puerto Rico, there’s still a more than $20 billion imbalance between the taxes they pay and the benefits they receive. Although some states receive more federal funds than they contribute, Puerto Rico’s per capita imbalance is far larger than any state’s.
Residents of Washington, D.C., another federal territory, also lack voting representation in Congress — but they pay federal income taxes. When Alaska and Hawaii were U.S. territories, their residents also paid federal income taxes. The four million Puerto Ricans residing in Puerto Rico should do the same.
We should not allow the thousands of millionaires residing on the island to get the best of both worlds: U.S. citizenship without having to pay federal income taxes. This gravy train for Puerto Ricans should end immediately. If Puerto Ricans don’t like this, they can advocate for statehood or an independent republic — but the federal government shouldn’t be supporting a Caribbean welfare paradise. Congress should not allow Puerto Ricans to continue taking advantage of the U.S.’s benefits. Puerto Ricans need to contribute their fair share to the U.S. Treasury.
Francisco A. Rullan, born and raised in San Juan, Puerto Rico, is Regional VP of the Puerto Rican Bar Association of Florida, where he is an attorney for the firm of GrayRobinson in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.