Just arrived in Austin, only to find in my in-box, oh, 'bout a dozen Friends' links to either Governor Rick Perry's speech down in Houston or the Burnt Orange Report's compendium of reactions to said speech. As you may know by now, the governor is saying no to more than $500 million in unemployment insurance, part of the stimulus package.
A source seeking anonymity tells Unfair Park that Republican State Senator Kevin Eltife was working on two bills that would have enabled Texas to receive the funding "without locking us into long-term liabilities after the money has been expended."
"We believe the legislation is constitutional," the source says. "But the governor went his direction today, and he has that authority."
Update: Ann Hatchitt, spokesperson Texas Workforce Commission, stresses that people who currently qualify for unemployment insurance will continue to receive benefits.
She notes that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act signed by President Obama includes provisions that enlarges the pool of people eligible for unemployment, including part-time workers and those who have left their jobs because their spouses have taken a transfer.
Perry's concern, Hatchitt tells us, is when the stimulus money runs out after 2012, the state will be forced to increase taxes for Texas employers to maintain the new programs. Only the bills from Senator Eltife could have prevented this.
"We're all trying to figure out what happened today, but it seems as though the governor let everyone know ahead of time that if either of these laws get passed, he wasn't going to sign them, so that seems like what must have happened," she says.
But why wouldn't Perry want to sign the bills if it would allow Texas to get the money without keeping the programs long term?
"What a lot of people have been saying anecdotally is that once you start a program, it's really hard to reel it back in," Hatchitt says. "It's kind of how life is."
Update to Update: At our request, we just received an official statement from Tom Pauken, chairman of the Texas Workforce Commission.
I agree with Governor Perry that there should be no strings attached to the additional federal funds made available to Texas, pursuant to the so-called unemployment insurance modernization legislation. My efforts have been directed at developing a legislative approach which would allow Texas to get back our tax dollars without imposing any additional financial burden on Texas businesses after the federal funds run out.
The Governor believes that the Obama Administration won't permit Texas to do that. I concur with Governor Perry that the federal government has no right to dictate to Texans changes in our state law that will last after the federal funds are long gone.
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More after the jump, including an excerpt from Perry's speech.
Texans who hire Texans drive our state's economic engine. During these tough times, Texas employers are working harder than ever to move products to market, make payroll and create jobs. The last thing they need right now is government burdening them with higher taxes and expanded obligations.
The Unemployment Insurance stipulations in the new federal stimulus bill will ultimately increase the burden borne by Texas employers and have a direct effect on people they hire, and those they won't hire as a result. That is why I am here today at a company like Bering's: to stand with Texas employers and the millions of Texans they employ in resisting further government intrusion into their business by opposing the federal government's push to expand our state's unemployment insurance program.
Changing the Texas terms of unemployment will not only cause employers to change their hiring practices, it will also increase their tax burden for years to come, leading to higher-priced products and hindering their ability to overcome the current economic challenges.
... and this from the Austin American-Statesman, which reports that the House Appropriates Committee doesn't necessarily agree with the governor.
In a 5 to 1 vote, the committee on Thursday endorsed enacting the necessary changes to state law so that Texas would be eligible for the money. House Appropriations Chairman Jim Pitts was the only Republican among the "ayes." Rep. Myra Crownover, R-Denton, voted against the measure and argued that action should be delayed.