April 12, 2009
UI update

The headline says it all: GOP holds key to unemployment stimulus dollars.

Against the wishes of Gov. Rick Perry, lawmakers are pressing ahead with efforts to claim $555 million in federal economic stimulus money for unemployment benefits.

With all of the Senate Democrats already on board, a small group of Republican senators hold the key votes needed for passage.

Sen. Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler, is rounding up votes for his bill that would make changes in the state's unemployment program so that Texas can qualify for that money.

Perry made national headlines last month when he said he doesn't want the money because changing the program would mean increasing the size of government and higher costs for employers. Eltife says the unemployment fund is in such bad shape that it needs the stimulus money.

The Tyler Republican needs support from two-thirds of the Senate to bring up his bill for consideration, which means he'll need to win over at least eight of his 18 Republican colleagues. "I'm pretty close to getting the two-thirds I need," Eltife said this week.


"It's really easy to do a 20-second sound bite to make the public believe that it's best not to take the money," Eltife said. "It's a lot harder to show in details the numbers and why it makes sense to take this money. And I think when you can get one-on-one with elected officials and explain it to them, you can get support."

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, who presides over the Senate, discussed the bill with Eltife on Wednesday evening and said he would look at it further. "If there's a net gain to Texas and there's no harm to Texas business, then I would think all of us ought to be supportive," Dewhurst said. "It's probably a week too early to give a verdict on that."

It'll be interesting to see just which Senate Republicans support this. If I had to guess, I'd think maybe Kip Averitt and John Carona, both of whom have had sensible things to say about government spending this session, and Steve Ogden, who I think could be persuaded by the economic case, might be on board. On the other side, there's no way Dan Patrick will be for this - frankly, I'd be surprised to see any of the Harris County GOP delegation (Jackson, Huffman, Williams) vote for it. Beyond that, who knows? There must be more than this if Eltife is correct to say he's close to getting the votes he needs. Maybe if Dewhurst is on board, it can happen. We'll know soon enough, I suppose. Thanks to EoW for the heads up.

By the way, according to Burka, if unemployment levels in Texas stay as they have been for one more month, the amount of stimulus funding available to us would increase to $600 million.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on April 12, 2009 to Budget ballyhoo
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