Apparently, Bob Barr is smitten with Luis Fortuño, Puerto Rico's Republican governor. According to Barr, what Fortuño has done with the Puerto Rican economy is close to miraculous.
How bad was the situation facing Fortuño in the fall of 2008 even before he took office? Bad enough that Puerto Rico’s credit rating was near “junk bond” level; requiring Fortuño to travel to New York to meet with investment community leaders to urge them not to reduce the island’s rating even further. Puerto Rico’s budget deficit stood at $3.3 billion — at nearly 44% of revenues, worse than any of the 50 states. There was not even enough cash to meet his first payroll. One big reason for this predicament was the sheer size of the Commonwealth’s bureaucracy – nearly 70% of the budget was eaten up by government employee salaries and benefits.
Puerto Rico’s fiscal turnaround since January 2009 has been nothing short of remarkable.
The huge budget deficit has been reduced significantly; as a percentage of revenues it has dropped from nearly 44% to less than 11%. Government employment rolls have been reduced dramatically – by 17,000 and continuing to fall. Defined benefit pension plans have been closed out; the number of government agencies has been slashed; and the overall budget has been chopped a full 20%.
As a direct result of Fortuño’s work, Puerto Rico’s bond rating with Moody’s has leaped from Baa3 to A3; the highest it has been in 35 years.
Many questions can be raised about this particular story. For example, what did Fortuño do with the 17,000 government employees out of a job? Slashing budgets is really not the difficult part, so long as one has the heart for it. Finding jobs for the displaced workers is the real challenge.
But what I find most intriguing about the story is Barr's suggestion that Fortuño image will rise nationally as a result of his success with the island's economy. In fact, he argues that Fortuño is not a contender for the Republican nomination in 2012 . . . yet. He is not alone. None other than Grover Nordquist suggested as much over a year ago.
I don't know how to feel about this. I suspect it is a long shot, and by a wide margin. I also presume that such a nomination would split the Latino vote.
And yet, can you even imagine a Latino President coming on the heels of a Black President?