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Legislature adjourns without extending unemployment aid

Senate President Russell Pearce (Photo by Ryan Cook/Arizona Capitol Times)

Senate President Russell Pearce (Right) confers with Greg Jernigan, Senate Majority General Counsel, before the Legislature adjourns without voting on a bill that would have extended unemployment benefits an additional 20 weeks with federal funding. (Photo by Ryan Cook/Arizona Capitol Times)

By the time Republicans called it a day, it almost seemed like a textbook case of what to do — if you don’t want a special session to succeed.

And it wouldn’t have been half as interesting if it weren’t for the fact that all the lead players in the drama belong to the same party.

On Friday, Republican lawmakers responded to a call by Gov. Jan Brewer to convene a special session in order to pass legislation extending unemployment benefits by 20 weeks.

When they couldn’t reach a final agreement with the governor, legislators decided to resume work today — but only to conclude the session without an extension of the jobless aid program.

Brewer and her spokesman have repeatedly asserted that she believed the votes were in place in the Senate and the House would later be persuaded to support it. But Senate President Russell Pearce said he told the governor’s office on Thursday that the votes weren’t there in his chamber.

When Friday’s session ended with no action, the situation quickly deteriorated as the two sides dug in.

Republican lawmakers said they wanted to see some type of legislation to spur economic growth, not just to extend unemployment aid. Brewer responded that she already made some concessions and the state already enacted the largest corporate tax cuts in its history earlier this year.

Then the two sides engaged in a verbal tussle, a situation that reminded some of the skirmishes between the governor and the Legislature in 2009, when Brewer began her push for a temporary sales tax increase.

The situation left some Democrats, whose support Brewer needed in order to pass her proposal with an emergency clause, upset. Some of them had to cancel out-of-town trips in order to help pass what they had been clamoring for.

Meanwhile, some Republicans accused the governor of attempting to marginalize the Legislature’s authority and Brewer was just as acerbic in her criticism of those who blocked the proposal out of a belief that extending the aid would make the federal deficit larger.

Typically, a special session is called only when votes have been secured, a deal is sealed, and lawmakers are ready to convene and quickly end the session after passing the agreement.

Brewer spokesman Matthew Benson said the governor was “disappointed” that the Legislature missed an opportunity to boost the economy while throwing a lifeline to 45,000 Arizonans who are out of work. He also maintained the governor asked lawmakers back to the Capitol believing she had sufficient support for her proposal.

“The governor would not have called this legislative session if she had not believed she had sufficient support in the Legislature to get this accomplished. Certainly, we’re disappointed that that did not happen, but that’s politics,” Benson said.

Benson said the governor would still like to extend the benefits, but acknowledged that there’s no way to do that without a “significant change of heart” at the Legislature.

“She’s still interested in getting the extension of the unemployment aid, but there’s no imminent plan to call another special session or anything of that sort,” Benson said.

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Phoenix, was unimpressed by Republicans’ handing of the session. The governor and Republican leaders had known about this issue during the regular session earlier this year but ignored it, she said.

“The governor called a special session having made no preparations and no plans to get this bill passed and as a former legislator and as a former majority whip, she should know better,” Sinema said.

“That being said, we should have just voted it out on Friday. It’s an easy fix,” she added.

Sen. Ron Gould, R-Lake Havasu City, was even harsher in criticizing the governor.

“She did it just to spite us,” he said. “She’s created a bunch of grief for us by calling us into a special session that had no deal, on 24 hours’ notice, (on) the day before the deadline, so she could throw us under the bus on Saturday morning.”

Gould’s point is the governor can wash her hands by claiming she did her part but lawmakers just can’t get it done. Saturday was when the extended jobless aid program, which is federally funded, expires.

The Legislature’s decision to adjourn sine die today means the end of additional 20 weeks of unemployment benefits to some 15,000 Arizonans.

For out-of-work Arizonans who anticipated the aid’s extension, the session must have seemed like a roller coaster ride. It offered a glimmer of hope, which faded away just as quickly.

“Republican lawmakers failed to show one iota of sympathy or understanding for the plight of individuals and families suffering through one of the worst job markets in decades,” Rebekah Friend, executive director of the Arizona AFL-CIO, said in a statement.

The special session was over but legislative leaders did not discount the possibility of further talks with Brewer to try and come up with a compromise.

“I have it made it clear to the Governor’s Office the door is open,” said Senate President Russell Pearce. “What we’re not going to do is sit around for several days at a cost to the taxpayers while we negotiate a deal.”

Democrats lamented today’s non-action.

Assistant House Minority Leader Steve Farley said accepting the federal money and putting it into the hands of Arizonans would have meant an immediate economic boost for the state.

“These families are spending (their unemployment benefits) on food at their local stores,” he said. “They’re spending here locally. That creates jobs.”

But Rep. Eddie Farnsworth, R-Gilbert, said it would be disingenuous for legislators to complain about federal overspending but take every dollar offered to the state.

“Almost every day we’re here, we complain about the federal government spending,” he said. “But when they’re willing to give us some of that money, we say, ‘Oh, we’ll take it.’”

– Reporters Caitlin Coakley and Jeremy Duda contributed to this story.

12 comments

  1. They need to pass this for everyone and for our state. If they want to change something then they need to go after the people that have been abusing the system and collecting more then what is owed to them. I even know of someone that is collecting after the 99 weeks that everyone is supposed to be able to collect. Go after those people not the ones that deserve it. Without this my family is going to lose everything and I do mean everything.

  2. This is demonstrably the absolutely most worthless legislature in the country!!!

  3. I think everyone is who has not been given the extended benefits should show up at Russell Pearce’ house for their meals, showers, laundry, etc.

    Perhaps THAT would encourage the legislature to have a change of heart! These politicians are collecting their checks for doing such a minimal amount of work. Yet, they have the the unmitigated gall to quabble over Federal Funds to the tune of a max of $240 a week! Let’s see them feed their families and live on this amount of money. And yet…they have to think about it?

  4. For heavens sake, unemployment insurance money for food, rent, gas, etc. is the most basic “federal spending” there is! If AZ republicans are so concerned about waste they should donate their per diem pay for this special session to the Feds general fund! All of our legislators have jobs and health insurance. Perhaps they should try living in the real world or at least have a heart for their fellow citizens.

  5. Republicans are major idiots. Hope you are punished when it’s time for reeelection.

  6. What is the point in having a limit of these “benefits” if they can just keep being extended? Eliminating unemployment benefits is not being discussed. They are talking about people who have already reached the limit. Enough is enough.

  7. Even though, the extended unemployment benefits do not come from our state funds, it is important for people to realize that the money used to pay for these unemployment benefits is coming from taxpayers who are still working. Many of these taxpayers are also having some tough financial times and are worried about their future and the future of our country. They do not want the federal government to continue borrowing money from places like China just to pay the bills.

    I asked my constituents their opinion. Some wanted the payments continued to 99 weeks, but a majority told me they did not. They believed 1.5 years was long enough.

    I’m unsure why the Governor called the special session before the votes were lined up. I’m requesting not to be paid.

  8. How ripe! The “unemployed” reading and commenting in the Capitol Times! Seems like the editors left this story out in the “freebies” section to solicit negative comments about Republicans.

    If the Governor wanted to play Let’s Make a Deal, she should have put something on the table.

    Extending UI benefits out to two years is simply kicking the can down the road; Brewer vetoed several good pieces of legislation that would have contributed to job creation NOW.

    And Jan, in case you’re listening: Your Jobs Growth Bill is worthless because it does nothing for Arizona until when?? How many years from now? … you *never* should have vetoed SB1041.

    A 3rd term? You should never have been elected in the first place.

  9. This state can go to hell!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! You are ******** with peoples lives who can’t find a job because there is no work dip ****’s. If you want people to get off unemployment then start creating job’s. I’m a carpenter, and haven’t been able to find a job in over 2 years. So since you ignored my other comment’s here is a more literal one for all of you ignorant _ _ _holes.

  10. I’m 46, with a Bachelors degree, extensive office and bookkeeping experience, unsure how many applications I’ve sent out and people I’ve called to get references into certain companies ‘inner’ sanctum…still nothing. no job. no money. I’m spending $45/week to feed my family of 5 (3 teen boys). we make just a hare over what we need to in order to receive food stamps…

    sorry people, I’m not lazy, nor was I enjoying the woopdeedoozee $214.00/week unemployment I received – but it did feed my family…

    Arizona has not been kind to us….

  11. This is an insensitive act that disenfranchises the hearts of the very people that have put them in office. Well, maybe not. That’s probably the whole issue, isn’t it? If the effects of this atrocious, heartless, act were effecting those that \were\ actually more inclined to vote Republican, then we’d see a different outcome. Arizona Republican legislature is literally running roughshod over what they consider \lowerclassmen\

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