Puerto Rico’s new governor, Alejandro Garcia Padilla, was sworn in on January 2, 2013. On January 3, 2013, Governor Garcia-Padilla has more than enough challenges ahead of him for the first 100 days, and the next four years for that matter. Campaigning on the promise of 50,000 new jobs in the first 18 months, a return to a citizen-legislature (where legislators have a separate full time job and only serve on a part time basis as legislators), rejection of Gov. Fortuño’s austerity measures and tax cuts and promising to include more sectors of the population in his decision making, he now faces the reality of governing.
Moving forward, Gov. Garcia-Padilla faces several challenges that will make or break his term as governor:
Jobs: Possibly the “Read my Lips” of Gov. Garcia-Padilla. Puerto Rico has not seen unemployment below 10% in decades, and had approached 16-17% during the past four years with some marginal improvement that may have had to do more with emigration from the Island rather than new jobs. Currently, only 39% of the population is in the labor force, with over 650,000 people applying for welfare benefits (up from 550,000 four years ago). Garcia-Padilla famously promised to create 50,000 new jobs in the first 18 months as governor. That figures sum to about 92 jobs per day. In addition, Gov. Garcia-Padilla took a page out of his Republican predecesor and froze all government positions and salaries, while promising that he will not enlarge the debt (read: will not grow employment by increasing the public sector). Gov. Garcia-Padilla promised to introduce legislation to create jobs on the very first day the Legislature opens.
Crime: In 2009, Puerto Rico had 894 murders and 66,429 crimes. By 2012, the total number of crime had dropped to 62,382 per year, but murders had increased to 978 per year (down from 1,100+ in 2011). Puerto Rico’s crime rate would make Chicago look like a peaceful paradise to put it in another way. Gov. Garcia-Padilla has promised to fight crime by activating the National Guard to patrol the coasts and borders in cooperation with the Federal Government, adopt a medication-oriented approach to the war on drugs, increase community-participation and increase educational programs that deter minors from criminal behavior.
Education: Puerto Rico’s public education system receives the largest chunk of our budget and consistently brings the poorest results. With 1,277 schools with reported deficiencies, up from 730 in 2009, Gov. Garcia-Padilla must continue Gov. Fortuño’s focus on improving school infrastructure and streamlining the bureaucracy. The new governor’s pick for Secretary of Education is a teacher himself (from the public sector) and promises to work alongside the unions and parents to improve the educational system.
Legislative Reform: In the late 90s, Puerto Rico switched its citizen-legislator model to a full-time legislator model, under the presumption that the latter would be less prone to corruption than the former. In 2012, the Popular Democratic Party, alongside the main newspaper, El Nuevo Día, campaigned strongly for a return to the citizen-legislator model, in which legislators receive a small salary (currently well over $100,000.00) and work in a part-time capacity, while being able to keep their full-time job (currently prohibited). Gov. Garcia Padilla promised that on the day he got sworn in, he could call for an Extraordinary Assembly of the Legislature in order to submit and approve the reform. Unfortunately, his own party has begun to betray him. Senator Eduardo Bhatia, now President of the Senate, has publicly opposed the rush to reform the legislature and even to return to the citizen-legislature model, all while keeping silent on the issue during the campaign. On Friday, Sen. Bhatia accidentally tweeted his true feelings on the governor, calling him “irrational” for being so steadfast on legislative reform. While Sen. Bhatia now alleges his account was hacked, the tweet clearly states that it was sent as a text message from his own cellphone. Others in his party have condemned Sen. Bhatia’s flip-flop on the issue and are pressing all legislators to fullfil an important campaign promise.
Gov. Garcia-Padilla has full control of the government (except for the Supreme Court) for the next four years, so the only obstacle in his way is his own party. The campaign is over, and Gov. Garcia-Padilla must bring about real and tangible change, or else risk welcoming a new governor in 2016.