Rubio Questioned on Chapter 9 Stance at GOP Debate
SAN JUAN – Talk of Puerto Rico’s debt crisis came to the forefront of the rumble-in-the-jungle GOP debate Thursday night. Real estate tycoon Donald Trump, Sen. Marco Rubio, Sen. Ted Cruz, former Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Dr. Ben Carson were already riled up when Telemundo anchor María Celeste Arrarás asked Rubio whether he would extend Chapter 9 bankruptcy protection to the island.
“I want to talk to you, Sen. Rubio, about Puerto Rico. As you know, Puerto Rico’s in the midst of financial collapse, unable to pay it’s debt of $72 billion dollars. Puerto Rico is asking for bankruptcy protection which would give Puerto Rico, and Puerto Ricans, which are U.S. citizens — you know that — the tools to restructure the debt. That is the same debt the other 50 states have,” Arrarás said as she questioned Sen. Rubio’s resistance to include the island under federal bankruptcy protections, which he has said should be used as a measure of last resort.
“You oppose granting Puerto Rico that bankruptcy protection. You say that it is only a last resort measure, but the government of Puerto Rico has said that bankruptcy is its last resort. That’s where they are now. How do you explain this very strong stance to the hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans that vote across the U.S. , and particularly in your state of Florida?” the anchor asked.
Here’s what he had to say: “Sure, because bankruptcy doesn’t work unless you change the way you’re operating, or you’re going to be bankrupt again. And, the problem with Puerto Rico is its economy is not growing. It has a massive exodus of professionals and others that are leaving to my home state of Florida, and all over the country.
“They’re coming to the mainland from Puerto Rico because the economy there is not growing, it’s too expensive to do business there. The tax rate is too high. The government regulations are too extensive.
“This year alone, with all the problems they’re having, they barely cut their budget from one year to the next. So, I think the leadership on the island has to show their willingness to get their house in order and put in place measures…allow the economy there to grow again. If the economy of Puerto Rico does not grow, they will never generate the revenue to pay this debt, or the billions of dollars in unfunded liabilities that they have on their books of promises they’ve made to future generations to make payments.
“So, yes, if they do all of those things then we can explore the use of bankruptcy protection, but not as the first resort, which is what they’re asking for, because it will not solve the problems on the island and you’re going to continue to see hundreds of thousands of people leave that beautiful place, and coming to the mainland.
“They’re United States citizens, they’re obviously entitled to do so, and we welcome them, but we would also prefer to see a Puerto Rico that once again is growing economically, and is robust. And the leaders in charge there now are doing a terrible job,” said the presidential hopeful while lauding former Gov. Luis Fortuño, who incidentally jacked up debt by some $16 billion in four years, despite counting on $7 billion in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds.
“Their previous governor, Luis Fortuño, was doing a great job until he barely lost that election to [BELL RINGING] to someone who has taken a big government stance once again,” Rubio said.
The other candidates did not weigh in. Rubio reportedly is the candidate of choice for Puerto Rico’s Republicans on March 6, when the island will hold its own GOP primary.