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Eye On Olympia

Sat., Jan. 24, 2009, 9:55 a.m.

State’s biggest business group to lawmakers: Step away from the $4 billion unemployment trust fund…

As lawmakers plan to tap the state's $4 billion unemployment insurance trust fund, the state's biggest business group is trying to stop the train.

In a letter to Gov. Chris Gregoire recently, Association of Washington Business President Don Brunell said nobody knows how bad unemployment is going to get, and that tapping the money for things other than unemployment checks "is a risk not worth taking."

Democratic legislative leaders say the fund is the healthiest in the nation. They've said they'd like to dip into it to boost benefits, perhaps $45 a week. That would cost about $200 million over the next two years. AWB objects to this, spokeswoman Jocelyn McCabe said, for fear of draining the fund faster than it should be in tough times.

Lawmakers have also floated the idea of using another $200 million from the fund to pay for a new tax break for businesses, or of using some of the money for job training. AWB thinks that, too, is a bad idea.

According to Brunell, Washington businesses pay the second-highest unemployment rates in America: $637 per worker, compared to a national average of $281. He also points to California, which is trying to borrow money to replenish its dwindling unemployment coffers.

"Other states are in similarly dire circumstances," Brunell wrote. "We do not want to join them."

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