Brewer calls special session to seek jobless benefits extension - Ahwatukee Foothills News: Valley And State

Brewer calls special session to seek jobless benefits extension

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Posted: Wednesday, June 8, 2011 9:22 pm | Updated: 11:23 am, Tue Jul 5, 2011.

Ignoring objections from within her own party, Gov. Jan Brewer late Wednesday called lawmakers back to the Capitol in a bid to force them to extend jobless benefits for thousands of long-term unemployed.

"It will bring in $3.5 million a week into the economy for a while, and lift everybody's boat,'' Brewer told Capitol Media Services of the plan she wants enacted. "The bottom line is, these people that are out of work need money to put food on the table and to pay their mortgage, their rent.''

The governor said the issue affects close to 45,000 Arizonans. That includes nearly 15,000 who already are have been out of work more than 79 weeks and are collecting federally funded "extended benefits,'' and another 30,000 who are unemployed and whose payments will end at 79 weeks without the change in the law if they don't get work by the end of the year.

The governor's call for lawmakers to come to Phoenix on Friday is politically risky, with no guarantee of success. Many members of the governor's own Republican Party are balking, even though the cash for the benefits would come entirely from the federal government.

"Every day we're reading how this (federal) debt continues to escalate,'' said House Speaker Andy Tobin, R-Paulden.

"The members are very anxious about borrowing,'' he continued. "And they don't believe that federal money is free.''

Sen. Frank Antenori, R-Tucson, echoed the sentiment.

"We're not taking federal money, we're taking Chinese money,'' he said, with that nation financing much of the United States deficit spending. "We're broke as a country, we're broke as a state, and we're spending money we don't have.''

Brewer said she shares the concern. But she said Arizona's economy, with its 9.3 percent jobless rate, needs the stimulation the federal dollars can provide.

Anyway, Brewer said, Arizona legislators need to recognize that if they turn away the federal money it will go to other states where lawmakers already have made the necessary changes in the law to keep extended benefits for residents of their states.

"So, you know, what are we going to do: cut off our nose to spite our face?'' she asked.

"We need to go in, and we need to go in quickly,'' the governor said. And she took a slap at those who are balking.

"This is where we need leadership,'' she said. "We need people willing to do what's right for Arizona at these terrible economic times.''

Time is running out: Without legislative action, this coming week will be the last week of eligibility for extended benefits.

Arizonans who lose work through no fault of their own are entitled to jobless benefits equal to one-half of what they are earning, with a cap of $240 a week, the second lowest in the country.

The first 26 weeks of benefits are paid for out of an account funded by insurance premiums paid by employers. Congress authorized an additional 53 week paid for by federal dollars.

What is at issue is an additional 20 weeks of benefits, also paid from federal funds, which are available for people in states where the current jobless rate is at least 10 percent higher than either of the last two years.

A decline in the state's jobless rate in April means Arizonans will no longer qualify.

Federal law, however, allows each state to alter the formula to allow it to compare the current jobless rate with any of the last three years. That one-word change would keep the benefits flowing.

Senate Majority Whip Steve Pierce, R-Prescott, said he and many Republicans believe, as a matter of principle, that providing benefits for nearly two years is wrong.

Brewer is trying to make the deal more palatable to foes with a couple of sweeteners which would also be enacted during Friday's special session.

One would require that anyone getting federally extended benefits -- those out of work more than 79 weeks -- be required to actively look for work at least four days a week. That is twice as often as now required.

She also wants those in the same group to have to certify what federal law already requires: that they understand they have to accept any job offered, no matter how low the pay.

And, in a last-minute bid for GOP votes, she did agree to one more compromise: repeal a law which would otherwise mean an automatic hike in state unemployment insurance premiums when the federal jobless tax rate drops at the end of this month. That, too, is part of the agenda for Friday's session.

Brewer needs strong Republican support to get the extension: It takes a two-thirds vote of both the House and Senate to make the change effective immediately to keep the checks flowing.

And while Democrats are likely to support the extension, they control only 20 of the 60 House seats and just nine of 30 Senate slots.

Tobin said she could get that by simply agreeing to reconsider two measures she vetoed earlier this year.

One would provide sharp breaks in what owners of new or renovated commercial buildings have to pay in property taxes if the facilities are used to house companies that invest a certain amount of money and hire new workers.

Brewer said she was concerned about the cuts to local government revenue. More to the point, she said it was unfair, with "the potential to favor new businesses over those who've weathered the economic storms with us.''

Brewer was no more impressed with a measure designed to reduce the income taxes of the Apollo Group, parent company of the University of Phoenix.

The governor pointed out that she approved a package of tax cuts and incentives earlier this year designed to improve the state's business climate. She said if lawmakers have other ideas beyond that "it's something we can revisit'' next legislative session.

"But our priority right now is that we ensure that Arizona families in need receive this money,'' she said.

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