Special Session: Extended Unemployment Benefits

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Arizona Capitol Times reporter Luige del Puerto explains why nothing was accomplished during the recent special session on extending unemployment benefits.

Ted Simons: That was former U. of A. President Robert Shelton. Some lawmakers accused the Governor of trying to throw them under the bus. It was supposed to be a special session to extend unemployment assistance. In the end, lawmakers refused to extend those benefits. No more unemployment checks after this week for about 15,000 Arizonans. Here to tell us how this happened is "Arizona Capitol Times" reporter Luige del Puerto. Thanks for joining us.

Luige del Puerto:Thanks for having me.

Ted Simons:We're talking 20 weeks of unemployment checks, an extension for 15,000 folks, but a lot more probably would have gotten on the list between now and the end of the year.

Luige del Puerto: That's correct. The 15,000 are the people who would be immediately affected by the nonextension of this jobless aid program. That program expired on Saturday and that's why the governor called for a special session on Friday, the day before. But many more could still be beyond 79 weeks, which is the current program. And would be needing those additional 20 weeks and they will not get it as a result of what happened.

Ted Simons:And what happened is the Governor calls a special session. She needed, what, two thirds vote, emergency action so people wouldn't miss a check. Did this thing ever even come to a bill? Did they ever get to consider anything?

Luige del Puerto:One of the difficulties was to gauge how much support the Governor's proposal had in the legislature was the fact that a bill was never formally introduced. We don't know exactly what that bill would look like. It's correct that the governor needed a two thirds vote, so that once passed and signed into law it would take effect immediately. A two thirds vote for something as controversial as this one as it turned out was too high of a threshold.

Ted Simons:Let's talk about what happened down there.Because it sounds to me like the Governor didn't have the votes she thought she had. Sounded like certainly the more conservative lawmakers were looking at this as a chance to tack on some other tax cuts ideas. And some just didn't like the idea in the first place.

Luige del Puerto:You know, it almost seemed like the perfect mix for the conservative, the fiscally conservative lawmakers to rail against. To them it's an Obama federal stimulus bailout program, some felt it was social welfare. Some of them thought that it would basically be increasing the state deficit and we would be borrowing money, binding future generations to pay for today's expenses. There are certainly elements in the legislature who viewed this legislation that way. The fact that the Governor needed a two thirds vote made it all the more difficult to reach that threshold.

Ted Simons:It sounds as those some lawmakers -- again, people who are long-term unemployed and would use this month in to infuse some sort of stimulus, it is a stimulus package in a sense. Because you would stimulate the economy in some sense.I doubt -- very few are using this to pad their savings account.

Luige del Puerto: One argument for it, the Governor repeated several times Democrats had been clamoring for this extension for months now. This is money that's going to come in. It's money that we're not spending state money. This is federally funded, we're getting money from the Feds. We're getting about $3.5 million a year. The money will come in and be spent in our economy and it will be helping people, you know, in the process. Certainly that call wasn't heeded by this legislature.

Ted Simons: It sounded like some lawmakers were upset with the Governor for, what, not pushing hard enough or talking to them over the weekend?

Luige del Puerto: At the risk of it sounding like a he said, she said story, here's what happened. The Governor thought she had secured a deal with the Senate and had the votes to push this through. The Governor thought if they could get it out of the Senate the house later on would be persuaded to follow through. Of course, it didn't happen. Now, we asked Senate President Russell Pearce if there was a deal with the governor. He said what the governor was told was there was a possibility there would be the votes for it. Then he said on Thursday last week he had basically called the Governor's office to let them know there wasn't the votes for it. But of course the call by then had been made the night before. So certainly we wouldn't be having this conversation if the governor had lined up and secured those votes firmly. We don't know who said it, basically we don't know who spoke too soon.

Ted Simons: So correct me if I'm wrong here, the Governor could -- I don't know if this is legal or not -- another governor in North Carolina did this by way of executive order, go ahead and approve this plan. She's not going to do that though, is she?

Luige del Puerto: I'm not as familiar with the issue. The way I understand it, our governor doesn't have the authority to do so. The other governor had the special authority to basically do it in case there's a gridlock with the legislature. I don't think our governor has the same authority.

Ted Simons: What about the idea of another special session down the line?

Luige del Puerto: That's certainly a possibility. Russell Pearce said they are going continue and try and negotiate with the governor for a compromise or for -- to strike a compromise, and he said they wanted to end the session because they didn't want to stay in session and be spending taxpayers' money while they are having those negotiations. There are lawmakers, Republicans, hoping to see a second special session called. And for legislative leaders to come to a final compromise with the governor and get this done.

Ted Simons: Before you go, I want to make sure we know there were many, some Republican lawmakers down there who thought no matter what the reason, this is a bad idea a disincentive for people to find work. It's a government handout, at no cost to the state but still it would hurt the federal deficit. These folks were never on board to begin with.

Luige del Puerto: They were never on board to begin with. I don't think there was any kind of a deal to be had to persuade this group of lawmakers9 to go in and support what the governor was wanting to do. The key for the Governor of course is not to -- to keep trying to reach out to those people. To reach out to those who could be persuaded, who are saying, okay, let's wait and see what you have on the table and maybe it's something we can support.

Ted Simons: Alright Luige, thanks so much, we appreciate it.

Luige del Puerto:Arizona Capitol Times reporter;

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