Two years after Maria, life in Puerto Rico is mostly back to the way it was before the disaster; one could say everything is business as usual.
At first glance, this statement could be seen as positive; after all, recovering from a major natural disaster is no small feat.
The way I see things, business as usual is extremely dangerous for Puerto Rico and, in the next four to five years, will lead us straight into a human-made economic and social disaster that will leave a larger scar in our history than any hurricane.
Three years into former Gov. Rosselló’s, now Gov. Wanda Vázquez’s term, political candidates are entering campaign mode using the same populist rhetoric and maneuvering the way they always have. Everyone in the government is focused on positioning themselves to extract the most value from their position in this final year or to maximize their chances of reelection.
Meanwhile, nobody is attempting to solve the ticking time bombs that could completely derail our economy and society.
The largest of these is undoubtedly the elimination of the 4 percent tax on pharmaceutical companies. The U.S. Secretary of Treasury warned our governor almost two months ago that this tax had to be eliminated. But our government can’t simply remove this tax because it generates $1.8 billion in revenue per year, which is over 20 percent of our central government’s budget.
The real problem though, is that instead of facing this issue head-on and transparently, our governor has decided to ignore it and push the can down the road, which is precisely what former governors Fortuño and García Padilla did with this tax during their administrations.
Instead of creating a special task force to work directly with the Department of the Treasury and the pharmaceutical companies to find a solution that works for all parties, Gov. Vázquez tried to hide the whole issue from the public but failed because of leaks to the press.
The lack of a strategy to replace such a significant source of revenue becomes even more worrisome when you realize our government has reached restructuring agreements with most of its bondholders. Therefore, during the next couple of years, our government will see one of its primary revenue sources taken away at the same time its expenses increase dramatically.
Sadly, this is only the tip of the iceberg. We also have unfunded pension plans to deal with, extremely high utility prices that are set to increase by up to 50 percent in the next five years, rampaging criminality and a healthcare system that’s falling apart.
But Puerto Rico is back to business as usual, government officials at all levels are kicking the can down the road and making moves for their re-election while voters focus on their Halloween costumes and get ready for Christmas.