The Arizona Legislature adjourned a two-day special session Monday without voting on a proposal to keep 20 weeks of federally funded extended unemployment benefits flowing to thousands of jobless people.
Gov. Jan Brewer had tried to get lawmakers to change a formula in state law so jobless Arizonans could continue to receive the benefits. But several GOP and some Democratic lawmakers blamed the Republican governor for failing to line up votes to support the measure and calling lawmakers into special session shortly before the deadline for making the change expired.
The extended benefits arriving in the mail this week will be the last without a formula change. The state's unemployment has fallen enough to stop benefits after 79 weeks under the current formula. About 15,000 people are now receiving the additional 20 weeks of benefits. Arizona's benefits are second lowest in the nation, averaging $216 per person each week and maxing out at $240 a week.
Republican leaders say there wasn't enough support for the proposal without also taking action on long-term measures such as business tax cuts and regulatory changes to spur the economy. "In 20 weeks, we would be back just trying to deal with the Band- Aid again," said Republican Sen. Sylvia Allen of Snowflake.
Some Republicans say the state shouldn't make a change that would provide a total of nearly two years of unemployment benefits. "Eventually we have to quit paying unemployment benefits," said Republican Sen. Ron Gould of Lake Havasu City. "And when does it stop being unemployment benefits and begin just being cash assistance?"
Democrats say the Legislature has turned its back on people who are struggling and need a safety net while they look for work. "We have abandoned some people in Arizona who have earned their way," said Democratic Rep. Debbie McCune-Davis of Phoenix, a supporter of the proposal.
Gould said the governor didn't lay all the necessary groundwork for such a change and put the Legislature in the position of taking the blame for the proposal's failure. Gould has drafted a petition for the Legislature to call itself into session, rather than rely on the governor's goal of only confronting unemployment benefits.
Brewer, who had rejected suggestions to expand the scope of the session to include tax cuts and other changes, released a written statement saying she was disappointed the Legislature was unable to get enough support for the proposal. "I remain concerned and deeply saddened for those families whose unemployment assistance will shortly expire, especially in this uncertain job market," said Brewer, who had agreed to add provision to the proposal to increase job-search requirements for recipients of the extended benefits.
Before the Legislature voted to adjourn, about 40 people gathered outside the Arizona Legislature to urge lawmakers to approve the measure.
Carla Mannes, a Mesa resident who has been unemployed for about 68 weeks since losing her job in the funeral industry, said she is approaching the threshold for receiving the extended benefits. She's frustrated those who argue that extending benefits would encourage people not to look for jobs.
"I am not sure how that counts as fraudulent in trying to pay a mortgage, buy food and take care of your kids," Mannes said.
Senate President Russell Pearce said he still is open to negotiations with Brewer. "What we are not going to do is sit around for several days at the cost of the taxpayers while we negotiate a deal," Pearce said.