Unemployment Insurance Bill Dies In House
By ADAM RUSSELL
Around $555 million in federal stimulus funding fell by the wayside when the clock struck midnight in the Texas House of Representatives after three days of delay tactics kept it from a vote.
Sen. Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler, who authored Senate Bill 1569, said the bill would have allowed the state to accept stimulus dollars and help replenish the state's floundering Unemployment Insurance fund.
Eltife said Wednesday after losing three important legislative days in the House because of Democratic delays he believed Tuesday evening the bill would not be voted on before the midnight deadline.
"The clock ran out, a lot of that is due to the chaos in the House but that is the way it goes," he said. "I am disappointed for the unemployed Texans who this would have benefited and for businesses that will have to pick up the burden when the fund has to be replenished."
Eltife said he still believes taking the stimulus money would have represented a "win for business and those unemployed Texans" and that he thinks "as we go forward people are going to see when we have to borrow money to put into that fund because it's broke they will understand what the benefit of taking that money would have been."
In April a Texas Workforce Commission projection for the Unemployment Compensation Trust Fund estimated the account would be $833 million dollars below statutory levels by Oct. 1, and is expected to cause an increase in the unemployment insurance tax rate on employers, said commission spokesperson Ann Hatchitt. Because of higher than expected unemployment rates the breaking point is now expected in July, Eltife said.
According to estimates given to Eltife by the TWC, $2 billion will be needed to replenish the fund. That money will either be loaned to the state by the federal government or bonded, he said.
Eltife said legislators became "hung up on the changes in state law" needed to accept the stimulus funding but that his legislation would have addressed those concerns with the ability to review the changes and revert back to prior language.
Critics of the bill, which include Gov. Rick Perry, said the bill, which would have expanded state unemployment benefits, would have placed an undue burden on businesses in the long run.
Rep. Leo Berman, R-Tyler, had said, prior to the point of order death of SB 1569, he would not support the bill. On Wednesday he said the Democrats, in an effort to delay and kill a controversial voter identification bill, effectively killed SB 1569.
He said the bill reached the House floor 20 minutes before midnight after 14 hours of delay but by the time an amendment had been laid out the clock struck 12 a.m. and a point of order was called, killing the bill.
"Although the Democrats wanted this bill very badly, they delayed themselves out of it," he said. "We knew exactly what we would be getting but we had no idea what it would have cost us in the long run if we had to change our unemployment compensation laws permanently."
Berman said his opposition to the bill centered on his belief that the bill would have burdened business owners in the long run and "given us a permanent problem for a temporary fix." He said he did not believe the federal government would let the state "off the hook" when it came time to changing law to prior language.
Eltife said "in hindsight I think the bill is going to look pretty good" as the fund depletes and the state is forced to borrow $2 billion from the federal government. Eltife said it was "a shame" that more than half a billion dollars will now go to other states.
"Nobody wants to take the grant from the federal government but we will turn around and borrow $2 billion from them to replenish our fund?," he said. "This was a win-win and we left half a billion dollars on the table."