I’d like to set the record straight due to the political intrigue and misinformation that have been ascribed to the recent special session on continuing the federal Extended Benefit (EB) Program until the end of the year in Arizona. This issue became ripe for a special session when our unemployment rate changed slightly in May and triggered Arizona off the EB program based on current statute.
So, here are the facts:
At its core, the Legislature did not continue the federally-funded EB program administered by the state of Arizona because many Republican legislators opposed it either on philosophical grounds or wanted to combine it with additional business tax cuts. Considerable effort was spent by my administration for what essentially amounts to a simple statutory change. Additional provisions were included to gain legislative support. Executive and legislative staff spent many days vetting various anti-fraud concepts with the U.S. Department of Labor to ensure we were not violating federal law. Prior to making the special session call, I, and my staff, had multiple meetings and telephone conferences over weeks with Senate President Russell Pearce and House Speaker Andy Tobin, both jointly and separately, and with other legislators.
As has been widely reported, Pearce requested additional safeguards against fraud, and Tobin wanted to couple the continuation of the EB program with business tax cuts, including the possible revival of vetoed bills in some form based on the Invest Arizona property tax cut for new or expanding businesses (SB1041) or the corporate income tax cut for multi-state service providers such as Apollo Group (SB1552).
I agreed to add the anti-fraud safeguards, but did not support the additional business tax cuts in the special session, as I discuss later in this article.
The June 10 special session call was issued late on Wednesday, June 8. I issued the call after talking with Pearce on the afternoon of June 8 for about 20 minutes when he advised me that it appeared that the votes would possibly be there if we combined the EB continuation with five or so anti-fraud EB reforms, including a community service requirement.
The timing was critical because June 10 was the last day of EB eligibility and legislator availability was ebbing and flowing.
Introduction sets were prepared at my request through legislators. Sen. John McComish and Rep. Russ Jones kindly agreed to introduce the bills on the first day of the special session. I thank you both. Copies of the draft introduction sets were emailed to the Senate and House majority and minority staffs on the afternoon of June 9.
On the afternoon of June 9, Pearce called my staff as he has said. He reported that he was worried about the special session, and that he needed at least three new reforms added to the bill relating to our core unemployment insurance program. This was needed in an effort to keep his “yes” votes due to counter-lobbying efforts by other Republicans over the past 24 hours.
My staff was working with the U.S. Department of Labor on June 10 to include these amendments in the bill so as not to imperil federal approval of Arizona’s overall unemployment program.
While we ultimately did not succeed, Pearce diligently and earnestly put forth much effort with his members to secure the votes and I sincerely thank him for that. Tobin also tried valiantly to find an acceptable business tax cut package to pair with the EB continuation.
While I support calls by legislators to increase our economic competitiveness and have been leading that effort as chair of the new Arizona Commerce Authority, I believe that we need to carefully consider these changes in light of what we have already done in the past four months and our current budget situation. As promised, negotiations are on-going with the Apollo Group, and I have committed to improving our business property tax system.
Let’s face it, one of the biggest obstacles to job creation right now is the fiscal and regulatory uncertainty coming out of Washington, D.C. Employers are scared to hire and consumers are holding back on spending. We don’t need to add to that uncertainty by inadvertently creating instability in our carefully balanced state budget and shifts among various classes of property taxpayers.
We need to digest and implement what we have done during the past four months and develop carefully considered plans to increase Arizona’s economic competitiveness for a special session this fall or the next regular session in January. Working together with the Legislature, we can repeat the success of the last session.
I firmly reject the ridiculous notion that I called the Legislature into special session as part of some grand political strategy, or to embarrass legislators. This mischief is promoted by confirmed political provocateurs.
As legislators and all Arizonans have grown to know me as governor, they should know I call them as I see them.
My goal for the special session was always to continue the EB program until the end of this year when it expires and Arizona’s economy further improves.
While I recognize and respect that others may differ, I believe that continuation of the EB program is the best way forward for Arizona’s economy and our long-term unemployed under the current uncertain economic circumstances. My efforts will continue to be toward that end with courage and candor.
— Jan Brewer is the governor of Arizona.