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Rubio says Chapter 9 for Puerto Rico will not solve problems

NEW YORK, Sept 4 (Reuters) - Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio said giving Puerto Rico access to U.S. bankruptcy laws would not solve the U.S. territory's problems and "should only be a measure of last resort," he said in an opinion piece published Friday.

Rubio, who is in Puerto Rico at the same time that Democratic contender Hillary Clinton is visiting, attacked the island's politicians for having "taxed and spent too much, and lacked the political courage and competence to pull Puerto Rico out of economic despair."

Bills proposing that Puerto Rican municipalities be allowed to reorganize debts under Chapter 9 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code have been introduced in the House and Senate but the idea has not gathered enough Republican support to advance further.

Chapter 9 should only be a last resort "if Puerto Rico takes significant steps to fix its budget and economic mess," Rubio wrote.

However Clinton; former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, a Republican; and former Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley, a Democrat, have voiced support for Chapter 9.

Rubio, a Cuban-American, said in the opinion piece that Puerto Rico's leaders must "lead and do the difficult but essential work of cutting spending, reining in out-of-control big government and eliminating job-killing policies."

However, he said the next U.S. president could have a role in reviving the island.

Rubio proposed to make low-paying work more attractive, creating pro-family tax reform and repealing and replacing ObamaCare. Puerto Rico should also have a federally sponsored vote on the island over the issue of statehood, Rubio said.

"If a majority of Puerto Ricans votes yes, Congress and the next president should respect their will and do what's necessary to admit them as the 51st state," he said.

While Puerto Rico's residents will not be eligible to cast presidential votes in November 2016, they have a voice in the primaries and, as the island's economy has suffered, an increasing number have moved to U.S. states, where they can vote particularly Florida.

(Reporting by Megan Davies; Editing by Richard Chang)