• The Star Staff

Pierluisi: ‘Our goal is to be treated equally as American citizens’

By Pedro Correa Henry

Twitter: @PCorreaHenry

Special to The Star

This is the fourth in a series of interviews with candidates running in the 2020 general elections

New Progressive Party (NPP) gubernatorial candidate Pedro Pierluisi’s goals seem greater than just to live in La Fortaleza, where he passed through briefly in the summer of 2019 as a successor of former Gov. Ricardo Rosselló Nevares.

He spoke with the Star on Sunday about his aspirations to achieve equality for residents of Puerto Rico, how he will not replicate the Law 7 strategy to deal the public debt, how he and his government will work with the Financial Oversight and Management Board and how he will work to pull the island out of its economic crisis amid the coronavirus pandemic.

As for Puerto Rico’s political status, Pierluisi said his main goal as governor will be to achieve a permanent and effective relationship with the United States in order to provide for the well being of Puerto Rico residents. Likewise, both he and his prospective government want islanders to acquire rights equal to those of U.S. mainlanders, such as voting rights and equal treatment in all federal programs.

“What we need from the government of Puerto Rico is for people to be able to improve their quality of life. And that’s what I’ll bring to the table,” Pierluisi said. “Our goal is to be treated equally as American citizens; my goal is to have a permanent relationship with the U.S., have an effective relationship with the federal government for the well being of our people.”

When it comes to how Pierluisi will manage the island government’s relationship with the oversight board, as the government has yet to restructure its public debt and the composition of the board is changing for the next four-year period, he said that as the governor of Puerto Rico he focus on four areas in which his government will stand its ground in order to change the board’s posture, including investing in compensation for Puerto Rico’s public servants, ensuring municipal governments can provide essential services to citizens and preventing cuts from both the public pension system and the University of Puerto Rico’s budget.

“Frankly, the fact that there will be a change of composition of the board doesn’t tell me to be concerned at all because any member will know that I, personally, participated in the drafting and approval of the law that created the board, that I know that law, PROMESA [the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management and Economic Stability Act], inside and out, and that I know how the board operates and what its mandates are.”

When The Star asked if his government would replicate the strategy for addressing the public debt pursued by former Gov. Luis Fortuño of the NPP, who signed Law 7 of 2009, which laid off around 30,000 public servants, Pierluisi said “those were very different times” and that the island would not have the oversight board if there was no change of government in 2013, back when Alejandro García Padilla of the Popular Democratic Party became the head of state.

“This is a different ball game altogether; what you have now is an oversight board and a pending bankruptcy process,” he said. “Something that I will be doing is encouraging the board to finalize the pending debt restructuring that we have at the central government level. Why would I do so? Because PROMESA says that once the debt of the central government is restructured and once we show the government of Puerto Rico has been operating on a balanced budget basis for four years and we gain adequate access to the market, the board must leave our island.”

Regarding his constitutional cabinet, the former two-term resident commissioner said that beyond having honesty and integrity, his cabinet members must also be extensively knowledgeable on the matters they will be faced with at the agencies they lead.

“If I [have] seen something that hasn’t worked in Puerto Rico, it’s the lack of execution from part of the government; we’re not talking about a lack of federal funding, or even state funding; this is not a funding issue, this is a capacity issue,” Pierluisi said. “Something that I am determined to do is hire honest and capable people to lead the key agencies of the government of Puerto Rico and to be under my guidance in executing for the benefit of the people.”

Meanwhile, when the Star asked how his government will aid Puerto Rico’s healthcare system amid the coronavirus pandemic, he said the government’s medical card program needs “major surgery” in that it must ensure better oversight.

“I keep seeing that the government is continuing to make decisions without an adequate scientific basis,” he said. “The consistent lack of data and [lack of] effective contract tracing has undermined the government’s ability to deal with the pandemic.”