Senate Republicans invoked Initiative 960 on Saturday to block legislation they say would create a new tax on employers to pay for worker retraining.
At issue was Senate Bill 5809, which would divert 0.1 percent of the amount employers pay into the unemployment compensation fund by 0.1 percent of taxable wages. The money would be used for work force training grants for laid off workers.
The state has to create a new fund for the training program because federal law doesn’t allow money from the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund to be used for anything but unemployment benefits.
The diversion would allow the state to put money into the fund without raising employers’ net taxes, supporters said.
The measure also proposes to scale back a recently passed boost to unemployment benefits from $45 extra per week to $31 extra per week for laid off workers.
State Sen. Janea Holmquist, R-Moses Lake, argued that diverting a portion of the taxes in essence creates a new tax on employers for the worker training grants. Initiative 960 – passed by voters in 2007 – says any new tax has to get approval of two-thirds of the members of both houses of the Legislature.
“We need to look at what is really happening to the funds in the bill,” Holmquist said. “Employers are paying into a fund for work force training grants; this is a new tax, and the fact that their unemployment insurance premiums are being reduced by an equal amount does not change this.”
Holmquist also said that by diverting tax money, the bill would drain $56 million from the trust fund.
“The Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund is paid by employers to provide benefits to unemployed workers,” Holmquist said. “To protect workers, we must protect the integrity of the UI fund.”
Lt. Gov. Brad Owen, who presides over the Senate, agreed that the bill met criteria in Initiative 960 to require a two-thirds supermajority to pass.
Democrats asked to defer the bill for further consideration before adjourning Saturday afternoon.
The Senate resumes this morning.
Also Saturday, the Senate unanimously passed a bill that would prevent pet owners ordered to forfeit animals after being convicted of animal cruelty from owning or caring for similar animals.
Senate Bill 5402 would stop animal abusers from owning or caring for animals in the same genus permanently after one conviction of first-degree animal cruelty or two convictions of second-degree animal cruelty.
The bill now goes to the House for consideration.