Last night at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, the handsome young governor of Puerto Rico took the stage to a warm reception. Luis Fortuño greeted the crowd and millions watching on television with a jovial “Buenos Noches Puerto Rico! Buenas Noches America!,” and went on to hit on the popular GOP theme of “tough choices.”
”You and I know there is a better way, and like many conservative governors—we are proving it,” he said.
But what most viewers at home didn’t know, and what Fortuño didn’t mention, is just how tough his choices were—in almost every way, his budget plans exceeded the brutality of any current GOP governor, including even Wisconsin’s Scott Walker.
When he was sworn into office in 2009, Fortuño essentially instituted economic martial law. He got Public Law 7 passed in March 2009, which declared a state of economic emergency and allowed Fortuño to take actions that would have otherwise been illegal. His plan was to lay off 30,000 public workers—10 percent of the federal workforce—and Public Law 7 allowed him to unilaterally suspend union contracts, override labor laws and deny remaining workers the benefits already promised to them. (Despite a supposed dedication to fixing Puerto Rico’s budget problems, he later slashed the corporate tax rate by 9 percent).
Unions fought back hard, instituting a crippling one-day general strike, and mass protests overwhelmed the streets. Collective bargaining rights were eventually restored, but a staggering 20,000 public workers were eventually laid off. Puerto Rico’s economy slowed, and the unemployment rate naturally shot up and is hovering around 16 percent.
It’s no wonder GOP honchos are so attracted to Fortuño’s craven economic doctrine of deep public-sector cuts to help pay for corporate tax easements. Fortuño didn’t explicitly boast about the layoffs but instead presented a friendly Latino face that GOP leaders surely hope will help win over a crucial voting bloc. This makes last night’s appearance all the more craven. If Fortuño’s policies continue to be enacted in the United States, it’s Hispanics who will suffer most—historically, public sector jobs provide more equitable opportunities to women and people of color.