March | April 2017



Puerto Rico Senate President Eduardo Bhatia & House Speaker Jaime Perelló

Puerto Rico Senate President Eduardo Bhatia and House Speaker Jaime Perelló are co-chairs of The Council of State Governments Eastern Regional Conference. Bhatia was first elected to the Senate in 1996 and served until 2000. He was elected to a second term in 2008. Perelló, who became House speaker in January, began serving his first term as a Puerto Rico representative in 2009.

What are your goals as ERC co-chairs?

“We want The Council of State Governments Eastern Regional Conference to continue building on its strengths in fostering a regional dialogue on a variety of issues relating to strategies to promote economic development, strengthen our regional and transportation infrastructure, improve access and affordability of health care, and cope with the impact of severe weather. We are also interested in increasing awareness of the importance of America’s Caribbean border and ensure adequate resources are provided to facilitate trade while protecting our citizens from transnational drug and other criminal networks.”

How does the ERC help policymakers in your region?

“ERC provides access to policymakers and resources in other states and provinces so that we can share ideas and information. Much like the Northeast, Puerto Rico’s $63 billion economy was hit hard by the recession, leading to rising unemployment. We are interested in the work of CSG and ERC on the effective use of tax incentives and other strategies to strengthen Puerto Rico’s industrial base. We have also taken great advantage of ERC’s Eastern Leadership Academy program held in Philadelphia each year as it provides policymakers with critical leadership skills and strengthens our capacity to govern in these challenging times.”

What are the five biggest issues affecting your region?

“The need for updated, upgraded infrastructure, development of a new industrial base, the impact of climate change on the economy and quality of life, the fiscal challenge of doing more with less and the need for better understanding of cross-border security and trade issues.”
“The last two years saw the Eastern region affected by the impact of severe weather damage from Hurricanes Irene and Sandy on our infrastructure. Our aging infrastructure has long been difficult to modify or protect and it is imperative that our energy, communications and transportation networks be able to function in this new environment.”
“State and provincial treasuries depend on a strong tax base, and pensions depend on strong markets. It is important that we spur the creation of new enterprises and industries to revitalize the economy. The Northeast region needs to create an environment where we can all draw on a well-educated workforce and to be able to offer new entrants into the workforce good opportunities after graduation.”
“Both the Canadian and Caribbean borders are extremely important points of entry for people and goods coming into and out of the U.S. More attention should be paid to formulate a sensible policy that maintains security while promoting good relations and trade between neighbors.”