Governor of Puerto Rico on debt crisis, push to become state

This is a rush transcript from "Your World," February 24, 2017. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

NEIL CAVUTO, HOST:  All right, the governor of Puerto Rico meeting with the treasury secretary today.

Now, a lot of people were reading, what does that mean?  Are we about to discuss helping them out financially, doing this?  Regardless, no one is saying anything here.  But we know right now that Puerto Rico's debt, at about $72 million, isn't getting better.  It's getting worse.

And this fellow is trying to get a handle on that.

The governor of Puerto Rico with us now, Ricardo Rossello.

Governor, very good to have you.  Thanks for coming.

GOV. RICARDO ROSSELLO, PUERTO RICO:  Thanks for having me, Neil.  Great to be here.

CAVUTO:  Everything -- everyone seems to think it's a matter of time, and it's skated off and pushed back, Governor.  But the fear seems to be you guys are going to go bankrupt.

ROSSELLO:  Well, we feel that we have laid out a path towards a Puerto Rico that has less spending on the government side, that can invest on growth opportunities, and that we can actually navigate outside of this predicament.

So, I feel very comfortable with the ideas, with the policies that we are pushing forward.  We ran a campaign on reducing a 131-agency structure in Puerto Rico, government structure, to about 30 to 35 agencies.

That will give us some leeway, so that we can start investing elsewhere and, of course, optimizing a path for growth and creation of jobs in Puerto Rico.

CAVUTO:  You know, there's always this back and forth, Governor, about whether Puerto Rico wants to just become state of the United States and whether, for example, those in the United States would like to see that happen.

But what are your thoughts on that?

ROSSELLO:  Well, there is no back and forth.

The people of Puerto Rico have already chosen that we don't want to be a colonial territory and that we want to be a state.  And now we're actually pushing forward another plebiscite on June 11 so that we can ratify that petition.

I think Puerto Rico becoming a state would fulfill the destiny of 3.5 million American citizens that live in Puerto Rico.  That would be of great added value for us.

CAVUTO:  Well, what changed, though, Governor?  Because there was a time when a majority didn't want that and there was a time when a majority of Americans did want that.  And now we're told that a majority of Americans are not too keen on that, but a majority of Puerto Ricans suddenly are.

So, what changed?  Was it just the debt and everything else and the Puerto Ricans at the point of saying, we can't get out of this ourselves, maybe the United States and us as a state can?

ROSSELLO:  It's a realization of what our political power, or lack thereof, is. It's resources.  It's the fulfillment of the U.S. citizenship, which we proudly hold and which we are celebrating 100 years of it next week.


CAVUTO:  No, no.  I'm sorry.  I wasn't clear.

And I don't mean to be rude.  But it sounds like, until you had this debt quagmire, that it wasn't something you didn't want to do.  And, all of a sudden, the debt gets out of control, and then the statehood thing came back.

ROSSELLO:  No, that's not true.

We actually voted for the -- for statehood right before all of this fiscal collapse started occurring.  So, people are very much aware...

CAVUTO:  Yes, but your debt was pretty high.  In other words, it was -- it was just -- you could time it, you know?

ROSSELLO:  Yes, it is high.

But we have found a path to start attaining fiscal stability and to work towards renegotiating the terms of the debt.  So, that's one part of it, Neil.

The second part of it is, why should Puerto Rico become a state?  What is the added value to the United States?  And I think Puerto Rico has a lot to add to the nation.  It can be the beacon of the Americas.  We're 3.5 million American citizens, speak English, speak Spanish, can be the connecter of the Americas, a diplomatic center, can be an economic wherewithal.  We have a lot of assets in Puerto Rico that we really want to push forward.

CAVUTO:  Well, what was the treasury secretary saying about that?

ROSSELLO:  Well, we spoke about the possibilities of growth and the agenda that we're setting.

Neil, I have passed 14 bills and signed 14 bills that go directly to restructuring government, reducing the costs.

CAVUTO:  No, no, you have been working your heinie off.  No one is dismissing that.


CAVUTO:  I don't mean to make light of it.  But was the treasury secretary sympathetic of or supportive of statehood?

ROSSELLO:  Oh, we didn't talk about the status issue with the secretary.

CAVUTO:  Yes, you did.  I bet you did.  It came up.  It couldn't not come up.

ROSSELLO:  No, it didn't.

He was very much fixated on the fiscal plan, which he wants us to collaborate with the fiscal oversight board.


ROSSELLO:  But we did go to the secretary of justice.  And we went to his office.  And we submitted preliminary documents on the statehood issue, so that we can have a federally mandated plebiscite and we can decide once and for all.

CAVUTO:  Secretary of justice in your country?

ROSSELLO:  No, no, in the United States.

CAVUTO:  Secretary of justice who?  Who?

ROSSELLO:  Well, we went to the office, not with Sessions himself, but with the acting secretary...


CAVUTO:  Oh, from the Justice Department, the attorney general.

ROSSELLO:  That's right.

CAVUTO:  I apologize.

All right, Governor, thank you very much.  We will see what happens.

ROSSELLO:  Thank you.  Thank you for the opportunity, Neil.

CAVUTO:  All right.


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