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Senate Dems Pass UI Tax Break Bill, Dependent Benefit's Future Unknown

By Andrew Calkins February 4, 2011

Today, state senate Democrats passed an unemployment insurance bill that would prevent a 38 percent increase  in unemployment insurance (UI) taxes for businesses and extend benefits for long-term unemployed workers. The bill accomplishes that seemingly impossible bit of mathematical magic by raiding the UI Trust Fund to the tune of $478 million through 2017.

In a statement released on the Senate Democrats' site, Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles (D-36, Seattle) hailed the bill as a positive step forward: "This bill ensures that 70,000 unemployed workers and their families will continue receiving or become eligible for extended benefits. It also provides much-needed relief to employers in our state—especially to those employers who have not laid off any workers during the peak of the Great Recession.”

But the bill passed out of the senate today—with a vote of 46-1—was not what Democrats originally had in mind.

Yesterday's Fizz recapped a surprise Wednesday vote when moderate and conservative Democrats joined the Republicans to stall the bill because it didn't include an extra pot of federal money, the extended benefits.

Senate Democratic leadership (and labor)  wanted to hold off on that portion in order to bring the issue up later, giving them leverage to bargain for a children's benefit provision. (The main section of the bill, giving a $300 million tax break to business, had to pass this week before UI rates went up, but the rest of the dollars could be tapped later.)

The Washington State Labor Council had lobbied legislators to include the children's benefit. With the extended benefits already included in the current UI proposal, the future of the WSLC's sought-after dependent benefit is uncertain. (It's in the house version.)

The WSLC's president Jeff Johnson told PubliCola this afternoon that the fight over the dependent benefit was "not over yet." He was optimistic about the proposal's fate in the coming days and said that there was still time "for legislators to come to their senses" and pass legislation that benefits both businesses and families.
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