If Ben Carson becomes president, he plans to add one more star to the American flag.
During a New Progressive Party rally in Puerto Rico, Carson said, “Mis hermanos Americanos, my campaign is built around the premise of ‘We the People,’ and through such lens, I view the statehood question in Puerto Rico as settled."
Carson isn’t the first, or only, Republican candidate to support granting statehood to Puerto Rico. Both Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush have previously voiced their support, likely in hopes that it will endear them to the growing numbers of Hispanic voters within the U.S.
As a commonwealth, the island of Puerto Rico exists somewhere between belonging and not. Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens, but they’re exempt from paying federal taxes, and they are not allowed to vote in presidential elections.
But for Puerto Rico, full political integration at this precise moment is about more than voting. The most immediate and profound effects of being fully folded into the United States would be economic: specifically the ability to file for bankruptcy.
Earlier this year, the Government Development Bank reported that Puerto Rico’s economy was in much worse shape than previously thought. Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla then announced that there was no way the country could pay its $72 billion of debt. Because of its in-between status, Puerto Rico’s agencies and cities are left without the ability to file Chapter 9 bankruptcy (entire states can’t file for bankruptcy), a strategy that has saved cities like Detroit from complete default and ensuing economic meltdown in recent years. The ability to file for Chapter 9 could lessen some of the economic turmoil Puerto Rico is going through now. Municipal bankruptcy allows cities and municipal services (like water or light utilities) to negotiate with creditors to write-down debt, lower interest rates, or extend repayment terms. That breathing room can allow cities to continue providing important services while they work on restructuring and repaying.