Puerto Rico governor to visit Washington seeking help for island

Reuters News
Posted: Dec 08, 2015 7:52 PM

(Reuters) - Puerto Rico Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla will visit Washington on Wednesday to again ask Congress for help as the U.S. commonwealth seeks to recover from a nearly decade-long recession.

Garcia Padilla told a news conference in San Juan on Tuesday that he and other island leaders, including mayors and labor leaders, would travel to the U.S. capital to “convince Congress of the need we have for them to act.”

Puerto Rico, confronted by $72 billion in debt and a 45 percent poverty rate, previously asked the U.S. government for legislative aid, mainly through extending it the bankruptcy protections enjoyed by U.S. states, and giving it the same Medicare funding as states.

While the U.S. Treasury and some lawmakers have supported legislative fixes for Puerto Rico, the efforts have not gained momentum.

Garcia Padilla said on Tuesday that “it is possible” the trip will include meetings with Treasury officials.

Puerto Rico narrowly avoided default last week on constitutionally guaranteed debt but has said that to pay such debt in the future and fund key government services, it will need to start defaulting on other debt.

“We have been for months, if not years, doing fiscal gymnastics, taking away from some pockets to pay into others,” Garcia Padilla said. “The crisis has been real for quite some time.”

Garcia Padilla’s support has eroded during his efforts to solve Puerto Rico’s fiscal crisis. Creditors, alienated by his demands for cuts on debt repayments, have argued Puerto Rico can right its ship through smaller government and spending reform.

Voters have also cooled on the governor as the island’s outlook has failed to improve. A recent poll by newspaper El Nuevo Dia pegged his approval rating at just 12 percent.

Last week, several administration members and businessmen were indicted on corruption charges, and influential leaders in his own party have called for him not to seek a second four-year term in next November’s election.

The governor is expected this week to announce a decision on whether he plans to seek re-election.

Also on Wednesday, U.S. Treasury Counselor Antonio Weiss will make a presentation on Puerto Rico’s debt at the Washington-based Peterson Institute for International Economics.

Treasury has said it supports giving Puerto Rico the right to file for bankruptcy.

(Reporting by Nick Brown and a contributor in San Juan; Editing by Peter Cooney)