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Puerto Rico governor calls out Washington on ‘equal treatment’

Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello on Tuesday called on US leaders not to harm the territory’s hurricane recovery efforts through tax reform or year-end funding decisions, reminding Washington that Puerto Ricans are US citizens and “deserve equal treatment.”

“I recognize this is the ninth inning, but in this discussion of the supplemental, this is an opportunity to set things straight,” Rossello said at a news conference at his residence in Old San Juan.

He was responding to a question about a provision of the tax reform bill that he says would harm Puerto Rico’s recovery.

The measure would tax companies that shift money offshore; this would affect Puerto Rico’s economy because the territory, whose residents are US citizens, is treated largely as a foreign jurisdiction for tax purposes.

Rossello said lawmakers have an opportunity to make things right while they debate disaster recovery money as part of a year-end funding measure this week.

“The supplemental does present an opportunity to talk about tax considerations,” Rossello said, flanked by Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, who were visiting the island for the day.

“And what I have asked the leadership, again, today is to use the supplemental, and in their tax section recognize that this base erosion component of the tax bill, it is just ludicrous to consider Puerto Rico a part of it,” he said. “Puerto Rico is part of the United States, so how can you apply the base erosion provision to Puerto Rico if the goal is to create US jobs?”

Rossello also pleaded for flexibility in how disaster aid will be distributed to the territory and noted that his sole representative in Congress can’t compete with the delegations of disaster-hit states this year.

“There needs to be language that specifies how some of this money goes to Puerto Rico,” the governor said of disaster money. “We are competing with Texas, we are competing with Florida, we are competing with California, big states with a lot of representation, putting Puerto Rico at a significant disadvantage.”

Rossello did say after his meeting with Nielsen and Carson that he felt they understood.

“Both secretaries are committed to helping Puerto Rico. They recognize that Puerto Ricans are US citizens and deserve equal treatment,” Rossello said.

Carson echoed Rossello’s desire not to let “red tape” get in the way of relief.

“We do recognize that the situation is different here than it is in Texas or Florida or many other places,” Carson said. “And we’re quite willing to look at the regulatory burden and present appropriate waivers and changes, because we want to look at the goals, not at the rules; that’s what bureaucrats do.”