Associated PressSAN JUAN, Puerto Rico - Slash the number of public holidays by two-thirds. Eliminate dozens of government agencies. Legalize marijuana and prostitution.
From the intriguing to the impossible, there is no shortage of ideas for fixing Puerto Rico's ailing economy as the government tries to dig out from a whopping $70 billion in public debt and bring back economic growth.
The ideas have come from legislators, entrepreneurs and even members of the public, who have submitted ideas via a government-sponsored website. Of the 369 ideas sent in by the public, 156 have been accepted by a government committee for consideration, including the suggestions to legalize marijuana and prostitution, and to limit how long people can live in subsidized housing.
Puerto Rico, in dire straits following eight years of recession, has remained receptive as it debates hundreds of ideas: "We are studying all alternatives and all possibilities," said Sen. Maria Teresa Gonzalez, a member of the governor's party who has come under fire for submitting a bill that would reduce the number of holidays for public employees to six.
The island currently celebrates 20 holidays a year, double those observed in the U.S. Many people have bristled at the proposal to scrap some of the additional extra days off. Gonzalez said the excessive number of holidays costs the government about $500 million a year in lost productivity and interruptions in service, among other things.
Many suggestions have come as Gov. Alejandro Garcia Padilla prepares to submit the first balanced budget in decades, having promised U.S. investors and credit agencies that he will eliminate an $820 million deficit. The governor has not detailed his cutbacks, prompting fears of layoffs, tax increases and cuts to public service.
Opposition legislator Rep. Ricardo Llerandi Cruz has proposed eliminating 41 government agencies, saying it would save $160 million alone in administrative costs.
The government also has considered tapping into the island's underground economy, estimated by some experts at $20 billion a year, representing roughly 40 percent of overall consumption.
Puerto Ricans are increasingly seeking new ways to generate money, with some opening food trucks or hunting caimans to sell the meat as shish kebabs or fried snacks.
But an estimated 450,000 people have moved to the U.S. mainland in search of new jobs and a more affordable cost of living in the past decade.
All the ideas require further government approval, either with a legislative vote, or an administrative nod from the governor, agency or department. More dramatic ideas, such as legalization of marijuana or prostitution, would require public hearings, legislative approval and the governor's signature.
And prospects for approval of the various suggestions are decidedly mixed.
The governor, for example, is expected to sign a bill approved by lawmakers to release certain elderly prisoners, but not a suggestion floated by a member of the public to charge inmates for their room and board.