OLYMPIA — Senate Democrats had to delay a vote on a plan to save businesses from paying millions more in higher unemployment insurance taxes after Republicans said the plan didn't to help the workers who have been off the job so long they are running out of benefits.
Yes. You read that right. Democrats wanted to cut taxes for businesses and Republicans blocked it because it didn't do enough for benefits for unemployed. Although that seems like a Bizarro World scenario from DC Comics, it was really a bit of political maneuvering as the Legislature tries to “beat the clock” on changes to Unemployment Insurance.
The House recently passed a bill that cancels a scheduled increase businesses are facing this year for unemployment taxes and uses some new federal money to add $15 per week per dependent for jobless workers with families. Gov. Chris Gregoire has called for the Legislature to block the rate hike but wants the federal money to be used to expand training programs for unemployed workers, to move them into jobs that have a better chance of keeping them employed in the coming years.
But some social action groups and organized labor back the boost in payments for benefits, so Democrats are understandably verklempt and still debating that section. That creates a problem because the rate hike has to be cancelled by a law that is passed and signed by Feb. 8, or it goes into effect for the entire year.
This morning Senate Democrats tried to de-couple the two parts of the bill, with an amendment that cancelled the rate hike but took out the benefits provisions, leaving them to be handled later in the session. That meant a portion of the benefits section which extended unemployment insurance was also removed.
Before they could debate the amendment, however, Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, used a parliamentary maneuver to try to block it. “Without this change in law, 70,000 workers will exhaust their unemployment benefits,” he said.
Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, objected, saying there's time to extend the unemployment benefits but the rate hike needs to be stopped sooner: “The clock is ticking for thousands of businesses in Washington state. Their taxes will go up…We should not be playing politics with cutting unemployment insurance rates to business.”
After Schoesler's motion to block the amendment passed 26-21, a bit more parliamentary maneuvering ensued. Sen. Tracey Eide, D-Des Moines, moved to defer further consideration. Schoesler moved to act immediately on the original bill. Eide moved to adjourn for the day. Sen. Janea Holmquist Newbry, D-Moses Lake, objected. Lt. Gov. Brad Owen, presiding over the Senate, said there's no debating a motion to adjourn. Schoesler called for a roll call vote on Eide's motion to adjourn. (Motions to adjourn are usually done by voice vote with some of the senators on their way out of the chamber.)
Motion to adjourn passed 25-22. They'll be back tomorrow, when presumably they will try again.