published Sunday, March 29th, 2009

Tennessee: Wamp says federal unemployment aid to state has too many strings

NASHVILLE — Republican gubernatorial candidate Zach Wamp raised questions Saturday about Gov. Phil Bredesen’s decision to accept $141 million in federal stimulus funds to help unemployed Tennesseans.

The Chattanooga congressman, a declared candidate, said he believes too many financial strings are attached.

“The unemployment insurance piece to allow part-time workers to draw unemployment insurance is not a good precedent,” said U.S. Rep. Wamp, R-Tenn. “And that’s the only piece of the Bredesen reaction to the federal stimulus that I would have handled differently (as governor) because we’re going to be saddled with figuring out how to pay for those benefits after he leaves.”

His comments came during a campaign swing to Middle Tennessee, where he later spoke and mingled with GOP activists at the Tennessee Republican Party Executive Committee’s quarterly meeting in Nashville.

Gov. Bredesen, a Democrat, is barred by law from seeking a third term in 2010. He initially balked over accepting the $141 million for unemployment aid. He first wanted to determine whether required changes to state law expanding unemployment benefits made long-term financial sense once stimulus funds run out and state dollars are required.

The governor later announced he would accept the funds. Changes would cost about $30 million more a year even at current high unemployment levels, he said. And he argued the $141 million should cover at least five years of the changes. Gov. Bredesen said the state can handle the additional expense after that, but lawmakers could later decide whether or not to repeal them.

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, is exploring a gubernatorial bid and as Senate speaker must decide what to do with Gov. Bredesen’s recommendations on the unemployment insurance.

“We’re examining it to see what happens,” he said. “I think Gov. Bredesen was right to begin with when he said we weren’t going to take those. We’re just trying to figure out exactly what strings are attached to it.”

Noting that “there’s kind of a smorgasbord of benefits that we get to pick from,” Lt. Gov. Ramsey said, “if we get to pick the right ones from that smorgasbord, it’s my understanding that we can, then it probably wouldn’t be a problem of taking that money.”

Still, he said, lawmakers must “make sure we don’t set the problem up worse down the road two years from now.”

Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam, a declared candidate for the GOP nomination, said of changes that “I’d have to be assured that the legislature would have the courage to go back and rescind it. It’s obviously a lot harder to take something away from somebody then it is to never give it to them.”

about Andy Sher...

Andy Sher is a Nashville-based staff writer covering Tennessee state government and politics for the Times Free Press. A Washington correspondent from 1999-2005 for the Times Free Press, Andy previously headed up state Capitol coverage for The Chattanooga Times, worked as a state Capitol reporter for The Nashville Banner and was a contributor to The Tennessee Journal, among other publications. Andy worked for 17 years at The Chattanooga Times covering police, health care, county government, ...

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RBinTN said...

Rather than focusing on the "unfunded mandates" in a stimulus bill from which nearly all states have accepted funds, Congressman Wamp should consider how the unemployment funds could help the long-term unemployed in Tennessee. Many Tennesseeans are on EUC, and their benefits will expire soon, and they remain unemployed through no fault of their own. States like California are already considering ways to help their long-term unemployed; California has already lengthened its maximum benfit period to 79 weeks. There are positive ways to react to the new funds, but more of our legislators need to be more cognizent of how to utilize them.

March 29, 2009 at 9:50 a.m.
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