January 29, 2003
Plan Aims To Help Unemployed, Cut Insurance Cost To Business
By Deborah Baker
The Associated Press
SANTA FE An unusual coalition of labor, business, religious and social services groups with bipartisan backing from lawmakers is promoting a bill that would help the unemployed while cutting the cost to businesses.
The projected price tag of the proposed reforms, about $50 million annually, would come from New Mexico's $600 million Unemployment Trust Fund.
The proposal would increase the weekly benefit to recipients by 5 percent, add a $15-a-week benefit for each child up to four and expand who is eligible for unemployment.
Workers who voluntarily left a job because of domestic violence, for example, would be eligible for benefits. So would full-time students and those in job training programs.
At the same time, the proposal would lower the payroll tax rate for start-up companies from 2.7 percent to 2 percent and create a new, lower payroll tax rate schedule for other employers.
The changes would represent about $28.7 million for the unemployed, and $21 million for businesses.
"The fund is big, and we need to give a break to our employers," said Rep. Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, one of the bill's sponsors.
Most of the reforms would end after four years or sooner, if the balance in the fund dropped too low.
According to the bill's supporters, the fund has become fat because while 99 percent of New Mexico employers pay into it, only three of 10 unemployed residents actually get benefits.
"You can look at this as being $50 million right into the New Mexico economy," said Rep. Max Coll, D-Santa Fe, another sponsor.
House Republican Leader Ted Hobbs of Albuquerque praised the inclusion of the business community in negotiations over the bill, and predicted it would be passed by the Legislature.
"I do not foresee anything at this point I think would be problematic," said J.D. Bullington, lobbyist for the Association of Commerce and Industry, a business group.
Bullington said he planned to recommend that ACI officially support the bill.