Governors are certainly within their rights when they veto bills they believe would be bad for the state. And the Arizona Legislature churns out plenty of those.
But Gov. Janet Napolitano’s veto of a consensus measure that would have raised jobless benefits while making some overdue reforms to the unemployment insurance system is disappointing, to say the least. It’s also confounding. Why would she nix a carefully crafted and balanced bill that has been nearly a year in the making, one that raises benefits that are currently the lowest in the nation?
Napolitano said she favors the benefit hike, but opposes several of the reforms that would have made some people ineligible. And it’s true, some folks would have had a harder time collecting unemployment. But the state Department of Economic Security estimated only about 1 percent of applicants would be affected.
Are the proposed reforms unfair? Would they have imposed severe hardship on some? You be the judge.
One change would have increased the quarterly qualifying amount an individual would have had to earn to $1,500 from $1,000 — a figure that hasn’t been updated for 20 years. Another reform would have required an individual to have worked at least 20 weeks during their base period to qualify for benefits.
Business groups had requested the reforms to cut down on abuses of the unemployment insurance system by people who are sporadically employed or work just long enough to get benefits. And indeed, surveys of individuals collecting unemployment checks have shown a striking number remain jobless until their benefits are about to expire — when they suddenly land jobs. And is that so surprising? Even Arizona’s low benefit level — a maximum of $205 a week — is enough to tide some folks over who’d rather kick back at state expense than hunt down a job where they’d be expected to put in a week’s work for a week’s pay.
On the other hand, lots of hard-working Arizonans have been laid off through no fault of their own as the economy struggles to recover. Many have families, and raising the maximum benefit to $230 on July 1 and to $240 next year would have helped put more food on the table or even forestall eviction. The Children’s Action Alliance has worked diligently to win the additional relief this bill would have offered.
The measure also would have adjusted unemployment insurance premiums to provide a cost-saving incentive for those businesses that keep layoffs to a minimum. That would have helped business owners and workers alike. What’s not to like?
According to Farrell A. Quinlan, vice president of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce, the only groups that refused to come to the table when the jobless bill was being crafted were the unions — which backed Napolitano’s candidacy and collected 1,000 of the $5 contributions she needed to qualify for public funding under the Clean Elections system. (That's the system that was supposed to end special-interest influence in Arizona politics, remember?)
Payback? Napolitano’s spokeswoman Kris Mayes scoffs at the question.
But Rep. Carolyn Allen, a moderate Republican from Scottsdale who led the delicate negotiations, told Howard Fischer of Capitol Media Services that union fingerprints are all over this veto. Allen said she suspects Napolitano wants to stay out of the way of a union-led initiative drive to put an even more generous benefit boost on the ballot — at greater expense to businesses already battling a sluggish marketplace.
Indeed, that’s likely the only thing that would get the Legislature to try again now that this solid, consensus unemployment insurance bill — which would have helped thousands of jobless Arizonans without breaking the back of business — has been sacrificed to the state’s union bosses.