Last week, Gov. Jan Brewer (R-AZ) — the usually ultra-conservative governor who signed Arizona’s controversial immigration law — called a special session of the state Legislature in order to extend unemployment benefits that were about to expire. “Extending benefits for the unemployed is the right thing to do both for our local economy and for Arizona families,” Brewer said. “With the state unemployment rate still at 9.3 percent –- and even higher in many rural areas — we can’t pretend there aren’t thousands of our fellow citizens who remain jobless and in need of assistance.”
This welcome move, however, ran into a wall of opposition from Brewer’s own party. After failing to vote to extend benefits on Friday night, the state legislature met again on Monday, but adjourned without extending benefits. Their justification — in addition to repeating the false Republican claim that benefits encourage people not to look for work — was that they wanted extended benefits to be paired with corporate tax cuts:
House Speaker Andy Tobin, R-Paulden, said any aid for the long-term unemployed should be paired with policies that would stimulate job growth. In the Senate, President Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, said he and many of his fellow Republicans want tax cuts scheduled to begin in 2013 to take effect now. “We want to see immediate relief for businesses,” he said. “We need jobs now.”
“Eventually we have to quit paying unemployment benefits,” said Republican state Sen. Ron Gould. “And when does it stop being unemployment benefits and begin just being cash assistance?” For the record, Arizona’s unemployment benefits are the second lowest in the nation.
All of this comes at a time when Arizona’s unemployment rate is 9.3 percent. As we’ve documented, unemployment benefits are key to combating poverty and significantly help to boost the economy at the same time.
“I’m disappointed the Legislature was unable to muster the support needed to extend federal assistance for jobless Arizonans,” Brewer said after legislators adjourned. “I remain concerned and deeply saddened for those families whose unemployment assistance will shortly expire, especially in this uncertain job market.”