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The Associated Press June 9, 2011, 10:01AM ET

Ariz. Gov. calls session on jobless benefits

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer is calling the Legislature into special session in an attempt to get lawmakers to change a formula in state law so jobless residents could continue to get 20 weeks of extended unemployment benefits.

Brewer announced late Wednesday that the special session would begin Friday morning.

"Extending benefits for the unemployed is the right thing to do both for our local economy and for Arizona families," Brewer said in a statement.

A recent dip in the unemployment rate sets the stage for the federally funded extended benefits to end this week unless lawmakers act.

Brewer spokesman Matt Benson said the goal is to have the session done in one day, and he said Brewer's office believes there are enough votes to pass the proposal.

However, what will happen during the special session is unclear because some legislators don't support Brewer's proposal and because some legislators may not be available to participate.

Approval of legislation that would take effect immediately to avoid any interruption in benefits would require approval by two-thirds of both legislative chambers.

Brewer's proclamation for the special session calls on lawmakers to keep the extended benefits by changing a formula in state law. She also wants to make two minor changes in state law to tighten job search requirements for recipients of extended benefits.

The proclamation also allows lawmakers to make a change in unemployment taxes on businesses. Her office said that change would prevent businesses' payments from rising automatically because of a linkage with a federal tax change taking effect July 1.

The state tax provision was included in the special session call in order to try to win support for the overall proposal, Benson said.

Minority Democratic legislators have voiced support for keeping extended benefits, but many majority Republican legislators have said the state shouldn't provide a total of nearly two years of unemployment benefits.

And House Speaker Andy Tobin said Wednesday the focus of a special session should instead be on passing new business tax breaks to spur the economy and create jobs.

Without the federally funded extended benefits provided through the federal stimulus program, Arizona unemployment benefits would end at 79 weeks.

Brewer earlier Wednesday tried to win support from reluctant Republican lawmakers by proposing two changes to tighten job-search requirements for people receiving the extended benefits.

The changes respond to concerns voiced by lawmakers, Brewer spokesman Matthew Benson said.

However, Tobin then said there was more backing among fellow Republicans for business tax breaks aimed at spurring the economy and creating jobs.

Approximately 15,000 people now receive the extended benefits, but state officials say an additional 25,000 people would receive them at some point during the rest of 2011 if Arizona continues to provide the extended benefits until the federal funding ends Dec. 31.

Arizona's seasonally adjusted unemployment rate in April was 9.3 percent, down from 9.5 percent in March.

Brewer said in a newspaper commentary published Wednesday that keeping the extended benefits would benefit both the recipients and help the state's economy through the infusion of federal dollars.

Brewer said she didn't like promoting unemployment benefits but it's a step warranted by the state's still-lagging economy. "And tens of thousands of Arizonans -- our friends and neighbors -- are counting on us right now to swallow hard and do the right thing," she stated.

Brewer proposed two new requirements for recipients of the extended benefits. They would have to make and document efforts on four days weekly to search for work, an increase from two now. Also, they would have to certify weekly that they're aware of the current requirement that they accept any job offer that pays at least minimum wage.

Brewer said the new requirements would "safeguard against program fraud and abuse."

Tobin told reporters he's not totally closing the door on Brewer's proposal, but it would be only a short-term response to a long-term problem.

Tobin said there's much more support among lawmakers for developing a business tax relief package that would provide new or expanded breaks on property or corporate income taxes and could include recycled versions of bills Brewer vetoed.

"We can have an opportunity to put some people back to work rather than just doing this short-term unemployment piece," Tobin said. "We would have a better shot of getting two-thirds if we had an employment package."

In the wake of a package of phased-in business tax breaks approved in February, Brewer doesn't want to consider doing more tax changes until the 2012 regular session, Benson said.

"The governor is interested in taking care of this (extended benefits) issue and taking care of these people who are facing the loss of their unemployment benefits," he said.

A House Democratic leader, Rep. Ann Tovar of Tolleson, said Republicans bear responsibility for not acting on the benefits issue months ago.

"It shouldn't have gone this far," Tovar said. "They didn't want anything to do with that during the regular session."

Republican proposals for business tax breaks have no place in a special session, she added. "It should be on this one issue -- and put people's livelihood back in some stability."

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