Feathered Bastard

Jan Brewer's Special Session Adjourns Leaving 45,000 Arizonans in the Lurch

The state Legislature recessed indefinitely today from its special session without making a minor change in state law that would allow some 45,000 jobless Arizonans to continue receiving unemployment checks.

Around 15,000 out-of-work Sand Landers will receive a check this week, and then no more. The Arizona Department of Economic Security estimates that another 30,000 would qualify for the federal extension by the end of the year.

The 20 extra weeks of payments have already been approved by the U.S. Congress. There is zero state money involved. The cash infusions equal about $3.2 million per week, and the bi-partisan Grand Canyon Institute estimates that this money generates $167 million in economic returns and $6 million in state and local taxes for the rest of 2011.

With a current unemployment rate of 9.3 percent, finding a job in Arizona is not an easy task. But even if you believe, as most of the state GOP does, that such federal money is tainted and runs contrary to the dictates of conservative ideology, turning down this money is easily the most idiotic, asinine and hateful move that the state Legislature has ever pulled. And that's saying something for this bag of wingnuts.

Governor Jan Brewer called the special session last week, and scheduled it one day before the benefits were officially set to expire. But, apparently, Brewer, who is a Republican, did this without lining up the votes necessary in her party to pass the small, one-word change to the statute.

State Senator Kyrsten Sinema questioned why the session was called with no plan on Brewer's part to pass the legislation and without the governor doing the lobbying necessary to get the job done.

Sinema said that state Dems alerted the governor to this problem in March of this year through correspondence and a press conference. They even identified bills that could be amended to make the change so that the money could continue to flow. But the governor ignored their suggestions.

Ditto Brewer's fellow Republicans. The local press has reported on the looming cut-off, and the Children's Action Alliance has issued dire warnings about the loss of these funds. Though this problem should have been addressed during the regular session, Brewer should never have called a special session without scoring support for it from state GOPers.

"Michael Hunter, who is the governor's lobbyist somehow got it into his head that they had the votes," said Sinema. "As far as we can tell they just made that stuff up. They never had the votes."

Sinema characterized Brewer's move as a "PR stunt," and a "waste of money," because it costs anywhere from $4,000 to $10,000 a day to keep the Legislature in session. When I spoke to her Sunday night, she correctly predicted that the Legislature would adjourn today with no action.

She also asserted that the governor could extend the benefits on her own through an executive order, as North Carolina Governor Bev Perdue, a Democrat, did recently.

According to a recent article in the Huffington Post, the U.S. Department of Labor has agreed to release North Carolina's extension money based on Perdue's order. HuffPo also reports that the action is not without precedent. Other governors, including ex-Florida Governor Charlie Crist, a Republican, have previously approved such funds by fiat.

Could Brewer do likewise? Her office has not returned my calls, asking for comment. I phoned Arizona State University law professor Paul Bender for his opinion. He said that he'd have to research the issue to offer one, but called it a "possibility," since there were no state monies involved.

If the governor can issue an executive order accepting the money, she should. Ethically and economically, it's the right thing to do for the state. And I suspect it would be a popular political move. Unlike this special session, which turned into a debacle.

Follow-up: I notice that the Republic scored a comment from Governor Brewer's spokesman Matt Benson, who, not surprisingly, was once a scribe for the Rep.

Benson told the fishwrap that Brewer had no plans to issue an executive order, and that Brewer's office doesn't believe it has such authority.

The notable point about Governor Perdue's action in North Carolina is that it got the money flowing again. Wingnuts there questioned it, but the feds accepted the order as valid.

So I don't buy this bull that Brewer lacks the authority. If she can declare states of emergency, she can do this as well. Sure the Republicans won't like it, but would it be illegal? And what would GOPers do in response, impeach her? Because she acted when they wouldn't? Don't think so.

One parting shot, concerning the Rep's story: Why do the Rep's editors need three reporters and a triple byline for a 690 word piece? Remind me not to feel so bad when the next round of Gannett layoffs hit. The Rep's obviously over-staffed.

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Stephen is a former staff writer and columnist at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Stephen Lemons