OLYMPIA – The Legislature’s attempt to speedily approve $300 million in tax breaks has moved forward, with the House unanimously voting Wednesday for a bill that also included help for people claiming new unemployment benefits.
Gov. Chris Gregoire has demanded that the Legislature deliver a bill cutting 2011’s unemployment insurance rates by this week. If that provision is not signed into law in time, Gregoire says businesses could see their unemployment taxes jump by an average of 36 percent as they try to rebound from the recession.
After a week of tense negotiations, legislators in the House voted to give businesses the tax break and include a pay bump for the unemployed of $25 a week in existing benefits to people who enroll in unemployment between March and November of this year.
That money is being drawn from $68 million the state is getting from the federal government. Once the $68 million runs out, the increase in the benefits will no longer exist.
“We need to do something that benefits the businesses that have paid into it and the workers who are unemployed,” said Rep. Mike Sells, D-Everett. “We’re going to do what we can out of this House to move this economy forward.”
Gregoire originally suggested a pair of bills on unemployment policy: the immediate tax cut and extended benefits, and a later bill that would revamp training programs and extend the tax cuts into future years. That training overhaul would make the state eligible for about $100 million in federal aid.
The Senate heeded Gregoire’s demand and approved the bill that only gave the tax breaks last Friday. That same day House Speaker Frank Chopp unveiled the House’s version of the bill – adding a temporary unemployment benefit for everyone that would have used up all of the $100 million in federal aid.
On Monday, just a couple of hours before the vote, the bill in the House was changed. Now, the unemployment increase is being tapped out of $68 million. The rest of the money will go to worker retraining.
“Well, I don’t think this is an agreement that anybody really wanted. Both sides had issues with it. But it’s probably an agreement that everybody needed. That’s what’s important today,” said Rep. Cary Condotta, R-East Wenatchee.