There’s nothing more encouraging on a Monday morning than to have your state cited as an egregious example of poor judgment. From the Associated Press:
Washington — State officials had plenty of warning. Over the past three decades, two national commissions and a series of government audits sounded alarms about the dwindling amount of money states were setting aside to pay unemployment insurance to laid-off workers.
“Trust Fund Reserves Inadequate,” federal auditors said in a 1988 report.
It’s clear now the warnings were pretty much ignored. Instead, states kept whittling away at the trust funds, mostly by cutting unemployment insurance taxes at the behest of the business community. The low balances hastened insolvency when the recession hit, leading about 30 states to borrow $41.5 billion from the federal government to pay unemployment benefits to their growing population of jobless.
The ramifications will be felt for years….
Each state decides whether its unemployment fund has enough money. In 2000, total reserves for states and territories came to about $54 billion. That dropped to $38 billion by the end of 2007, just as the recession began….
A review of state unemployment insurance programs shows how states weakened their trust funds over the past two decades.
In Georgia, lawmakers gave employers a four-year tax holiday from 1999-2003. Employers saved more than $1 billion, but trust fund reserves fell about 40 percent, to $700 million. The state gradually has raised its unemployment insurance taxes since then, but not nearly enough to restore the trust fund to previous levels. The state began borrowing in December 2009. Now it owes Washington about $588 million.
Republican Mark Butler, Georgia’s labor commissioner, said his state had one of the lowest unemployment insurance tax rates in the nation when the tax holiday was enacted.
“The decision to do this was not really based upon any practical reason. It was based on a political decision, which I think, by all accounts now, we can look back on and say it was the wrong decision,” Butler said. “Now we find ourselves in a situation where we’ve had to borrow money and that puts everyone in a tight situation.”
Why might it be so easy for Georgia Republicans to acknowledge the mistake? The four-year tax holiday roughly spanned the Democratic administration of Roy Barnes.
Recent political history has shown us that the No. 1 sign that a politician is finished with public office is a preening self-portrait in front of a bathroom mirror. This, as documented by my AJC colleague James Salzer, could be No. 2:
In his last full day in office, Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine issued himself several licenses to sell insurance and adjust claims….
Oxendine did not take the mandated classes or licensing tests, using his authority as insurance commissioner to waive requirements for himself that apply to other Georgians seeking to sell insurance…..
Oxendine, who left office in January after 16 years, said late last week that he had more than enough experience regulating the industry and helping to write insurance law to qualify for the licenses.
“If 16 years doesn’t give you a little bit of insurance experience, I don’t know what does,” Oxendine told the AJC. “I think that’s [worth] a little bit more than taking a test and taking a class.
In a Sunday sermon in Marietta, state Supreme Court Justice Robert Benham said Cobb County should have more black judges. From the Marietta Daily Journal:
“Although we’ve accomplished a lot here in Cobb County, there is much to be accomplished. We need to have more people who look like you sitting on the bench,” he told members of Marietta’s Pleasant Grove Missionary Baptist Church. “Those who sit in judgment of their fellow man sometimes might need to look like the people they sit in judgment on.”
There has never been a black Superior Court judge in Cobb.
Service unions have called for a string of rallies at state capitols to express solidarity with public employees in Wisconsin. Georgia’s will be at 4 p.m. Wednesday.
Speaking of games of chicken, Matt Towery says Republicans in Washington should pull the trigger. From the Marietta Daily Journal:
It sounds harsh and cruel, but U.S. House Speaker John Boehner’s threat to shut down all but essential federal government services if the Democrats on Capitol Hill can’t actually reign in spending is not only the fiscally responsible approach, it is also one that would be popular with the public.
- By Jim Galloway, Political Insider