Extending unemployment benefits to around 15,000 Arizonans still looking for work should be a no-brainer, assuming the wingnuts at the state Capitol had a pound of gray matter among 'em.
It's federal money that's pumped into the state's struggling economy, which according to the most recent numbers still suffers a 9.3 percent unemployment rate.
The move would cost the state nada, and the economic benefits are substantial. According to the bi-partisan Grand Canyon Institute, federal unemployment payouts equal a $3.2 million infusion of cash weekly into Arizona.
A recently-released GCI study estimates that this pump-priming will generate "$167 million in economic returns and $6 million in new state and local tax revenue over the remainder of 2011."
The extension of jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed has been approved by the U.S. Congress. All the state Legislature has to do is change one word in the Arizona Revised Statutes, and replace a "two" with a "three."
This lets the state to compare its current unemployment rate with that of three years ago, thus allowing an additional 20 weeks of unemployment to kick in for those who've been looking for work for 79 weeks. It's a bean-counter move, one the Legislature could have done months ago when it was still in session.
But the ideological nutcases who run the state Legislature, the same ones who believe in tax cuts aplenty for the rich and for corporations (essentially, welfare for the wealthy), couldn't bother themselves to make that one word change.
So Governor Jan Brewer, to her credit, has called the Legislature into session at the last minute to make this adjustment before the 15,000 lose their benefits come Saturday. Ironically, the fate of those 15,000 will be decided by politicians who themselves are waist-deep in the public trough.
That irony was not lost on Arizona Democratic Party Chairman Andrei Cherny, who e-mailed me the following statement:
"It's par for the course that the Republican state legislators who drove our state economy into a ditch now need to get paid extra in a special session to make a one word change in the law that keeps jobless Arizonans from having their benefits snatched."
And yet, it's far from a done deal. In fact, conservanut Tom Jenney of the Arizona chapter of Americans for Prosperity, a pimp for corporate bloodsuckers if there ever was one, is actively campaigning against the extension.
On a right-wing blog I like to call the Snorin' Alliance, Jenney encouraged people to contact their legislators and urge them to vote no. According to Jenney, unemployment benefits discourage job growth and make people lazy, a particularly arrogant assertion to make when your organization (and your job) is bankrolled by the billionaire Koch brothers.
"At this point," Jenney writes, "it appears that [Governor] Brewer and legislative leaders have not actually lined up the 20 Senate votes and the 40 House votes necessary to extend the benefits for the extra 20 weeks."
If the Legislature balks on Friday, when it will be in special session, the people of Arizona need to instigate a Wisconsin-style hullabaloo and hang high in effigy any legislator who votes nay.
Remember, in effigy. Enraged nonviolence still gets the point across.
Interestingly, the state GOP's ex-executive director (and apparent party animal) Brett Mecum recently admitted to a local scribe* that he worked it out with Arizona Republican Party Chair Tom Morrissey so that he would be fired instead of quit. Know why? So he could score weekly unemployment checks as he looked for another gig.
It's always amusing, and infuriating, to watch how all of these Teabagger types and so-called "Goldwater Republicans" game the system, but get up in arms when someone down on his or her luck needs a little help.
State Senate President Russell Pearce, for instance, has spent his entire working life feeding off the largesse of government in one from or another. If government, which is inherently evil in the eyes of conservanuts, were to whittle away to nothing tomorrow, what would Pearce and his fellow hacks do? Shine shoes down on Main Street in Mesa?
That would be the day.
*Note: I failed to mention that the local scribe who scored this tidbit from Mecum was Dennis Welch of the Arizona Guardian.
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