Today, Governor Luis Fortuño will address the GOP convention. Fortuño has been a rising star in the GOP, partly because of his aggressive fiscal reforms early on in his term (2008-2012). Fortuño’s reforms have rightly been praised by publications such as the Wall Street Journal (even suggested for Paul Ryan’s current position) and are a prime example of how fiscal conservatism does not require an absolute dogma on slashing government.
Fortuño is perhaps best known for cutting down a 3 billion dollar deficit into roughly 800 million by laying off close to 24,000 public employees, freezing public wages, shrinking government, streamlining government procedures and suspending public union’s scope on collective bargaining. However, Fortuño’s affinity to the GOP did not preclude him from doing the very same thing Paul Ryan and others in the GOP did when President Obama passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Fortuño utilized the ARRA funds to pump more money into education, roads and green energy (as was the case with the Puerto Rico Energy Affairs Administration). In fact, the ARRA funds were widely touted by the Administration as part of the success Puerto Rico has had following nearly a decade of economic recession. Puerto Rican think tank, Center for the New Economy (Grupo CNE) recently summarized the “Keynesian” aspect of Gov. Fortuño’s recovery, stating:
“Unfortunately for modern-day die-hard Reaganites in Puerto Rico, the economic data tells a different story. According to the Puerto Rico Planning Board, construction spending by the public sector, at current prices, grew by 11% during fiscal year 2011, and is forecast to increase by 16.8% and a whopping 22% during fiscal years 2012 and 2013, respectively. On the other hand, private construction spending, also at current prices, declined by 1.6% during fiscal year 2011, and is expected to decrease by a further 1.1% during fiscal 2012, before increasing by a meager 0.9% during fiscal year 2013.
Furthermore, according to data released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics today (April 20, 2012) total payroll employment in the island declined from 921,400 in March 2011 to 917,500 in March 2012, a decline of 3,900 jobs, or 0.4%. Private sector employment also registered a decline, from 662,900 to 650,800, a decrease of 12,100 jobs, or 1.8%. Government employment, however, increased from 258,500 to 266,700, an increase of 8,200 jobs, or 3.2%, during the same period.”
Fortuño also decided to focus on health care, overhauling the Island’s health program and increasing the program’s eligibility to include higher incomes than previously allowed. The program, Mi Salud, is a testament that health solutions do not exist solely in the realm of the market, but rather in an astute coexistence with the public and private sector.
The Republican Governor avoided legislating over hot-button social issues such as abortion and gay marriage, wisely recognizing that conservative measures on those issues provoke more drama than actual results. In fact, Fortuño has avoided legislating not only on abortion and gay marriage, but gun rights as well, focusing instead on enacting a tougher criminal code with mandatory sentencing. Fortuño’s focus on the “bread and butter” issues for Puerto Ricans proves that Republicans can opt to focus on the economy and crime, rather than on wars of attrition on social issues (that are ultimately decided at the national level).
Governor Fortuño also demonstrates that bipartisanship can bring more results than a party-wide dogma of opposition. His running mate, and current Resident Commissioner in Washington, D.C., is Pedro Pierluisi. A staunch Democrat who chaired President’s Obama Puerto Rico Primary team in 2008, and who still is strongly involved with the President’s re-election campaign, even if his running mate is rooting for the opposing candidate. Notwithstanding, Fortuño (much like Senator John McCain had he taken his first choice for Vice President), has not let Pierluisi’s stateside political affiliation get in the way of their ticket and plan for Puerto Rico.
Former Florida governor Charlie Crist said this weekend that “an element of their party (GOP) has pitched so far to the extreme right on issues important to women, immigrants, seniors and students that they’ve proven incapable of governing for the people.” Fortuño’s leadership in Puerto Rico shows that Republican ideas can be implemented without resorting to the extremes advocated by the Tea Party (and even Paul Ryan) and without having to campaign on divisive social issues.
It will remain to be seen how much of Fortuño’s playbook is ultimately picked up by his party.