Former U.S. Treasurer Rosario Marin lauded former California Gov. Pete Wilson for taking difficult steps to enact austerity measures in the Golden State in the early 1990s, but she backed away from saying she would recommend such policies for Puerto Rico today.
“It would be presumptuous of me to say that. This is not necessarily the right recipe for Puerto Rico. We’re talking about different economies, different people, different personalities,” Marin said during a recent investment forum, sponsored by Bacalia Group, at the Puerto Rico Art Museum.
She added that she had not specifically studied Puerto Rico’s case.
The Financial Oversight and Management Board, which has been continually tussling with the Puerto Rico government over the budget, has been a proponent of cuts in spending, services and pensions. However, increasing taxes has not been on the table.
When Wilson, a Republican, became California governor in 1991, the state had a $49 billion budget with a $14 billion deficit, she indicated. “He made a Solomonic decision. He decreased spending by $7 billion and increased taxes by $7 billion. He was the most hated man in Calif.” Yet he turned the state’s finances around.
“He had a clear vision for California. He communicated this and had a capable team of people around him… It was a difficult time because basic services were decreased while taxes went up,” Marin said. She added that a team was set up to promote California as “open for business” to attract investment.
“Even though it was not easy and [economic] recuperation took time, he was re-elected and when he left office [in 1999], California had a $9 billion budget surplus,” she pointed out.
The key for Wilson was a “clear vision” and a capable team “to executive the plan, communicate and get results,” she said.
At the time, Marin was serving in the Wilson administration as chief of legislative affairs of the Department of Developmental Services. She later went on to the White House, where she served as the U.S. Treasury secretary between 2001 and 2003, under the George W. Bush administration.
Marin, who is originally from Mexico, immigrated to the U.S. with her family at the age of 14. A naturalized citizen, she spoke no English when she arrived and hails from a working-class family. Her father worked as a janitor and her mother as a seamstress. She earned her Bachelor’s degree from California State University, having worked all through college and taking classes at night.
Proud of her immigrant and Latino roots, Marin also called on Puerto Rico to take a more active role and voice in the mainland U.S., along with the other 59 million Hispanics living stateside. “Many Americans still don’t know where Puerto Rico is, don’t know that Puerto Rico is part of the United States and that you are U.S. citizens,” she said to the audience.