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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Bill filed to lock in ‘rum cover over’ for PR, USVI at $13.25 per proof gallon

Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González Colón

By The Star Staff

U.S. Senator Bob Menéndez (D-N.J.), Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González Colón (R-P.R.), Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), and Delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives Stacey Plaskett (D-V.I.) introduced legislation on Tuesday to modify the amount of money transferred to Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands – known as the “rum cover over” – from the excise taxes collected on rum that is produced in or imported into the rest of the United States from the two U.S. territories.

It is the second time at least that the initiative has been filed.

“The rum cover over is a critical tool to promote economic development and create good paying jobs in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands,” Menéndez said. “Our bipartisan, bicameral legislation would eliminate the limitation on funds returned to Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands for the production and transportation of rum to the mainland United States, ensuring these two territories benefit fully from the taxes on rum sold in the continental U.S. This bill would also ensure that a portion of the funds covered over to Puerto Rico will be transferred to the Puerto Rico Conservation Trust Fund to support the island’s sustainability and conservation efforts.”

Under current law, excise tax collections on imported rum are transferred to Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands at the rate of $13.25 per proof gallon; $10.50 per proof gallon is in permanent law, and the remaining $2.75 per proof gallon requires periodic reauthorization by Congress. The legislation would amend Section 7652 of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986, making $13.25 per proof gallon the amount covered over by law, eliminating the need for congressional action and enhancing long-term sustainable economic growth in the two U.S. territories.

The legislative effort would also add a new provision that would require a portion of the funds transferred to Puerto Rico to go toward the Puerto Rico Conservation Trust. A private, nonprofit organization, the trust provides for the conservation of natural areas on the island, including through sustainable agricultural efforts, projects that promote the reforestation and restoration of Puerto Rico’s natural habitat, and the development of educational programs that foster the protection of natural areas.

“Our rum industry in Puerto Rico has great economic impact, more than 70% of the rum that is consumed here in the United States, and 80% of the rum consumed around the world, is made in Puerto Rico. Annually, we receive more than $330 million from the rum excise tax cover-over, which has been vital to supporting critical services, including healthcare, education, and public safety, and funding environmental and other conservation initiatives,” said González Colón, a co-founder and co-chair of the Congressional Rum Caucus. “This increase is vital to address uncertainty that both Puerto Rico and USVI have experienced, including funding cliffs on several occasions, and ensure that resources continue reaching our community.”

Plaskett, the U.S.V.I. delegate to Congress, noted that “[t]he cover-over has been part of the fundamental tax relationship between the United States and its territories going back over a century,” Plaskett said. “This bill would repeal the limit that has been imposed on the program since 1984. That will help to provide essential public services and to encourage production and employment on the islands as we recover from pandemic and economic downturn. This revenue is a significant source of well-paying jobs on our islands of the United States. To continue to support this vital part of our local economies, I am pleased to co-sponsor this rum cover over permanency legislation with my colleague, Rep. Jenniffer González Colón.”

Cassidy, the senator from Louisiana, added that “[t]he Rum Cover Over has long been critical funding for Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, but it continues to face funding cliffs that create uncertainty and jeopardize investment.”

“Just as Louisiana uses offshore energy revenue sharing to restore our coasts, these territories use this revenue to reinvest in their communities,” he said.

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