The Corner

Puerto Rico’s Scott Walker

Meet Luis Fortuño:

 

Madison, Wis., may be the austerity debate’s central front, but San Juan is an important, if overlooked, battleground. For the past three years, Governor Luis Fortuño has been the Caribbean’s Scott Walker — and like Walker, he’s under siege.

When Fortuño began his term, Puerto Rico was an economic mess. Fifteen percent of the island territory’s labor force was unemployed. Facing a $3.2 billion budget deficit, Fortuño implemented deep cuts, slashing public jobs and salaries across the board.

The government unions erupted. Thousands of public workers protested Fortuño’s reforms on the streets of San Juan. And in five months, when Puerto Ricans head to the polls, the labor activists and their allies, the Popular Democrats, want him gone.

Fortuño welcomes the fight. Progress has been slow, he tells me over breakfast in Washington, but it has been steady. According to the Labor Department, Puerto Rico’s jobless rate is 14 percent, down from a high of 17 percent two years ago.

Jobs are coming back to Puerto Rico, Fortuño says, thanks to the improved fiscal climate and his tax cuts, which lowered the corporate rate from 39 percent to 30 percent. His push for a natural-gas pipeline is another pro-business initiative.

“I came into the Republican party in 1980, when I was a college student at Georgetown,” Fortuño tells me. “I watched Reagan turn around the country by lowering taxes and controlling spending, and I’m applying the same principles.”

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