When House Republicans caucus, I'll bet it looks something like this:
Amid all the other state budget crises, it's not getting nearly enough attention, but the Florida Legislature is on the brink of giving the heave-ho to $444 million in federal stimulus funds that could help the state's unemployed.
Who knows? Maybe that was the plan all along: Throw lots of bad policy at the wall, and some of it's sure to stick.
Fresh from an orgy with lobbyists, House Republicans united to pass a bill that would allow offshore drilling only to have Senate Republicans gang up to kill it. Despite a House Republican plan to slash $200 million in funds for state colleges, the Senate has charted a less disastrous course, advancing legislation that would raise tuition by 15 percent. Earlier, in the same fashion, House Republicans were coaxed into accepting an extra $1 tax on packs of cigarettes, without which this budget would be a hopeless quagmire. And don't forget about the House Republicans' most diabolical plan: make voting harder, lest there be a repeat of November's high turnout and Democratic presidential victory. That plan was scuttled quickly after it attracted a spate of nasty publicity, including from the New York Times' editorial page.
But national infamy will apparently not be enough to keep House Republicans from turning their backs on the unemployed. A New York Times article from Monday described how business groups have lobbied to limit ex-workers' eligibility for benefits, leaving more money in the unemployment trust fund, meaning business groups could then lobby to defeat a plan to increase unemployment taxes.
An editorial in today's St. Pete Times explains what it would take to secure the near half-billion dollars that would help save the unemployed from poverty:
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The state would have to tweak the formula for calculating an applicant's past income and work experience. And it would have to adopt two of the following three policies: grant additional benefits when a recipient is in an approved job training program; offer slightly higher benefits for larger families; or grant benefits in certain cases when a person quits his or her job out of necessity, such as caring for a sick child, accompanying a spouse on a move, or due to domestic violence.
Oh dear! That sounds like the first step down the slippery slope toward socialism. Good thing one of our local legislators is keeping a vigil:
"The strings attached to the $444 million are going to potentially make a bad problem worse," said Rep. Adam Hasner, the House majority leader from Boca Raton.
Careful, Hasner. The jobless have lots of time to vote. And we'd hate to see you have to file for unemployment.