Ramsey, Senate Republicans balk on extended unemployment benefits

Ramsey, Senate Republicans balk on extended unemployment benefits

May 19th, 2011 by Andy Sher in Local - Breaking News

NASHVILLE - Repubican Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, the Senate speaker, said Thursday he doesn't expect the GOP-controlled chamber to go along with Democrats' demands to extend federally funded unemployment benefits for thousands of longtime jobless Tennesseans another 20 weeks.

Ramsey said there have been "conflicting reports" over costs for state and local governments.

But he also acknowledged "the bottom line is, I think, some of them [Republican colleagues] have a philosphical problem with extending these benefits for what would now be two years.

"So I don't think you'll see it getting out of Senate Finance," Ramsey said, later noting federal officials have extended the program twice.

"We're already now at 79 weeks," Ramsey said. "This would put it over two years."

According to the state Labor and Workforce Development, more than 28,000 Tennesseans who lost their jobs in the private sector would be eligible for an additional $57.7 million in federal funds.

That would only happen, however, if the state made a minor tweak in state law in order to take advantage of an expansion of the benefits signed into law last December by President Barack Obama.

State and local governments would be responsible for some $2.8 million in costs associated with workers they have fired.

House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley, said it would be an "absolute travesty" if Republican senators balk on the measure.

He said House majority Republican leaders are going along with restoring and extending benefits and Republican Gov. Bill Haslam has now provided for it in the latest version of the budget.

"First of all, it's a fund that would be appropriated by Congress for this very purpose," Fitzhugh said. "No. 2, we have a lot of people in this state that are unemployed."

He said his own home county has one of the highest unemployment rates in the state and "there are people who would love to be working and they just cannot find the jobs. They're not bums, they're not looking for government benefits, but they desperately need work and this would just come as a godsend to them."

In other legislative action Thursday:

  • The House Finance Subcommittee and Senate Finance Committee approved Haslam's proposed budget, now estimated at nearly $30.8 billion. About $12.14 billion of that comes from federal funds. That represents about a $1.23 billion or 3.9 percent reduction over last year.

Senators were expected to take up the budget later Thursday night.

Lawmakers are trying to conclude their annual session in the next few days.

  • A compromise on the governor's legislation to expand charter schools is moving. The bill itself lifts caps on the number of charter schools and allows higher-income, better-performing students to attend the publicly funded but privately run education facilities.

According to assistant state Education Commissioner Stephen Smith, the legislation now calls for giving school boards the authority to deny a charter based on "substantial" negative costs that the school system cannot afford.

But the legislation also sets up an appeal process to the state treasurer, Republican David Lillard in which systems would have to demonstrate they cannot afford to carve out state funding for the charter school.

If the proposed school's applicants lose there, they can still appeal the decision to the Education Department.

Contact Andy Sher at asher@timesfreepress.com or 615-255-0550.