300,000 Jobless to Lose Federal Unemployment Aid Next Week

As I write, the House of Representatives is finally taking up the scaled down jobs bill that includes a continuation of existing federal unemployment insurance programs through November 30 instead of December 31.

But even if it passes the House today, eligibility for the extended federal jobless aid programs will expire — at least temporarily — on June 2nd. Shameless disregard and deficit fear-mongering have delayed action in the House for so long that even if the Senate knew what bill it was getting from the House, it wouldn’t have the time to act before June 2nd. The Senate has nothing scheduled today, and won’t return until June 8th.

Meanwhile, according to a report from the National Employment Law Project (NELP):

The Department of Labor has reported that more than 300,000 workers will run out of benefits by June 12th, the end of the first week Congress returns from recess.

NELP estimates that if Congress fails to restore these programs 1.2 million long-term unemployed will lose jobless benefits in the month of June alone.

More than 15 million Americans are officially unemployed right now — as many, in fact, as were unemployed in 1933 at the depths of the Great Depression. Nearly 7 million have been out of work for six months or more. More than 5 million of them currently rely on the extended federal unemployment insurance programs. And those ranks have been increasing as tens of thousands each week exhaust their state-based 26 weeks of benefits.

Now, eligibility to apply for the extended federal programs, or to apply for the next Tier of benefits for those already receiving them, will start expiring next week.

Needless to say, your Senators and Representatives need to hear from you.

You can reach their offices in Washington today toll-free at 888-254-5087. And you can contact them through their state and district offices before they return to Washington June 8.

Assuming there’s a House vote today, we’ll see who in that chamber is on the side of America’s working families and the unemployed, and who’s on the side of wealthy hedge fund managers and corporations who get tax breaks to ship jobs overseas.

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Scaled Down Jobless Bill Set for House Vote

A bill including provisions to continue eligibility for extended federal unemployment programs through the end of 2010, which was expected to be taken up last week and then delayed, is being scaled back by Congressional Democrats who could not muster the votes for the larger original measure.

Excuse me for asking, but wasn’t crafting a bill that could pass the House and Senate — before these programs expire again — supposed to have been accomplished over the past two months?

Late last night Reuters was reporting:

Congressional Democrats cut the cost of a package of spending and tax hikes by nearly a third on Wednesday and delayed action for one more day as they raced to ensure passage before safety-net programs expire next week.

With some centrist lawmakers balking at the cost of the original package, House Democratic leaders scaled back unemployment benefits and doctor payments, according to a summary released late Wednesday.

The latest version of the legislation would add about $90 billion to the deficit over 10 years, down from $134 billion in the original legislation, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.

“We’re determined to get this bill passed by the end of the week,” said Chris Van Hollen, a member of the House Democratic leadership.

One of the key changes to the bill is that the continuation of eligibility for the extended federal jobless programs would be November 30 instead of December 31. Eligibility for those programs is currently set to expire June 2.

Like the original bill, the scaled back version does not include a ‘Tier V’ extension of the duration of unemployment coverage beyond the current programs.

The Boston Globe reports on some of the key provisions in the scaled down bill.

■ Jobless benefits and other safety net funding. Would extend several programs designed to help the poor and unemployed during the economic recovery. The ongoing extension of unemployment insurance, which is set to expire this month, would be continued until Nov. 30. COBRA benefits, also set to expire at the end of May, would also be extended through Nov. 30.

■ Summer jobs. Would help fund 300,000 jobs for those ages 16 to 24 across the country, extending programs funded through the federal stimulus.

■ Funding for states. Would extend higher-than-normal Medicaid reimbursements for the first six months of next year, at a cost of $24 billion.

■ Change in investment income: Would tax investments by investment managers as ordinary income instead of as capital gains. This would hit the wallets of venture capital and hedge fund managers and would increase federal revenues by $19 billion over 10 years.

Meanwhile, this morning the Labor Department reported 460,000 initial claims for state-based unemployment insurance last week. First-time state unemployment claims have not dipped below 400,000 for any single week since early September 2008.

Christina Romer, head of the President’s Council of Economic Advisors, warned against cutting back on fiscal stimulus to support the economy and spur employment. Speaking at the annual meeting of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in Paris, Romer is quoted by the AP:

“It would be wrong to tighten fiscal policy immediately, as that would nip the nascent economic recovery in the bud”

“nothing would be more damaging than a protracted recession that brought about permanent high unemployment.”

Romer said there is a risk that current high cyclical unemployment in the U.S. could become permanent structural unemployment unless measures are taken to increase the pace of the U.S. economy’s recovery.

It seems that permanent high unemployment is exactly what Republicans would like to see.

The House is set to take up the newly scaled down H.R. 4213 today. The vote is expected to be close.

Call your Representative now. Call toll-free 1-888-254-5087. Tell them to pass H.R. 4213 today.

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It’s Not the Deficit

I keep hearing about the deficit from pundits and members of Congress and definitely from conservative think tanks. To hear them, you’d think the deficit was universally acknowledged to be the biggest problem we’re facing. But it isn’t:

It’s not that the American people aren’t concerned about the deficit. But in poll after poll, they make clear that their No. 1 concern is jobs. Forty-seven percent of respondents to a Fox News poll this month, for instance, said they were concerned with the economy and jobs, while just 15 percent acknowledged concern over the deficit and spending. Eighty-one percent of respondents to a Pew Research Center poll from this month thought it “very important” for Congress to address the jobs situation — more than for any other topic. “There is no significant difference across party lines,” Pew reported.

And this isn’t some kind of short-sighted, selfish thinking from people who don’t know any better. Economists like Dean Baker, Joseph Stiglitz, Robert Reich, Mark Zandi, Paul Krugman, Lawrence Mishel, David M. Walker and more agree. Focusing on jobs now will restore the economy and rebuild the revenue base needed to…reduce the deficit.

Politicians who harp on the deficit are either being disingenuous or they need to read up on their economics a little. And the ones who are doing it because they think it’s the route to popularity with voters? They need to read some opinion polling.

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Cheryl’s Choices

By Kim McMurray – Philadelphia

I come from a working class family. I hail from coal miners in central Pennsylvania. My uncles are carpenters. My aunts are nurses. I grew up with a single mother who ran a daycare business out of our home. From a young age, I watched her struggle to make ends meet. We ate pasta four times a week. I knew not to ask to go to sleep-away camp.

I started working for Working America because I thought I understood what it was like to worry about money, to be directly affected by corporate and government officials whose decisions have a profound impact on my life. But in many ways, my family was infinitely lucky. My mom had a job. She worked insanely hard, but because she was able to work from home, she was there for me and my brother day in and day out. In this current unemployment crisis, people are lucky to have any job at all, let alone one that lets them make their family a priority.

Last week, the Philadelphia chapter of Working America held an Unemployment Table Talk where members got together to have an informal discussion about how the unemployment crisis has affected them. The economic meltdown hasn’t left anyone unscarred and everyone there had a powerful story. They lived without healthcare. They worried about making mortgage payments.

But one woman stood out to me–maybe because her blond hair reminded me of my mom’s, or because I could see the tough decisions in her eyes. Cheryl was laid off five months ago from her job at a local factory. In an attempt to cut costs, the factory changed its hours to 6:30-6:30 four days a week. While Fridays off might seem like a dream come true to some, 12 hour shifts don’t work when you are simultaneously raising a four year old and a ten year old by yourself. Who is going to get them off to school? Who is going to make sure they do their homework? When Cheryl couldn’t make the new hours work, she was the first one let go.

Cheryl said that her kids come first. She talked about searching for health insurance for them, while she goes without. Of food stamps and welfare. She talked about her choices, or a lack thereof. Cheryl’s older son needs help with math. He is in public school and as the year draws to an end, his teacher recommended that Cheryl enroll him in a special math tutorial. The problem? The program costs $160 and Cheryl is unsure where her next mortgage payment is going to come from.

I want to help him, she said. School should come first, but he is not going to be able to learn math without a roof over his head. So for now, that money will have to go to the bank. Tough decisions. And where will the mortgage payments even come from when her unemployment runs out?

I can see her constant worry, her struggle, and I am instantly transported to 1995 watching my mom balance her checkbook at our kitchen table. Maybe I was just too young to see her tough decisions.

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No Help for the Long-Term Unemployed

No help coming for the long term unemployed. If you’ve maxed out your 99 weeks, and are still unemployed – tough luck.

This week Congress will consider legislation to reauthorize extended unemployment benefits for the rest of the year. It’s going to be an epic fight: Republicans in the Senate will likely do everything they can to stand in the way of a bill projected to add $123 billion to the deficit, forcing Dem leadership to round up a supermajority for a last-minute Friday vote before Congress adjourns for its Memorial Day recess.

Too bad the jobs crisis, in a big way, has already left this bill in the dust. Hundreds of thousands of people have exhausted their extended unemployment benefits. In some states, laid-off workers can receive checks for 99 weeks — and that’s all they’re going to get. This bill isn’t for the “99ers” and there’s no proposal on deck to give them additional weeks of benefits.

“What’s frustrating is that our government doesn’t seem to think this is an important issue,” said Christy Blake, a 35-year-old mother of two in Fruitland, Md. “We didn’t put ourselves here. It wasn’t our choice. I have been diligently looking for work.”

Finding work is even tougher if you’re over 50.

But – not everyone agrees. US Senator Judd Gregg thinks we should cut off unemployment benefits right now:

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Senator Gregg (R-NH) is a multimillionaire, and has spent most of his life holding public office, which means he has taxpayer funded health insurance. Senator Gregg won over $850,000 in Powerball lottery in 2005.

What Senator Gregg knows about the realities facing working families could be neatly engraved upon the head of a common pin.

Take action to keep what help we can flowing to jobless workers and stimulating our economy.

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Ranks of Unemployed Remain Staggeringly High

As Congress gets ready to take up the American Jobs and Closing Tax Loopholes Act, which includes the urgently needed continuation of eligibility for extended federal jobless benefits through the end of 2010, research shows that the number of unemployed Americans is not declining and that long-term unemployment continues to rise.

The total number of Americans officially unemployed, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, remains near its peak during the Great Recession, and while virtually unchanged in the last six months, has been increasing again recently.

Unemployed 16+ 2007-April 2010

The above graph shows the total number of unemployed aged 16 and up from the start of 2007 through April of this year. BLS database queries based on age group demographics produced the following series of graphs. They show that unemployment among younger and older workers continues to rise.

Unemployed in thousands for those aged 16 to 24:

Unemployed 16 to 24

And for workers aged 55 and up:

Unemployed 55+

The 35 to 44 age group is the only one that has shown a declining number of unemployed in the last six months:

Unemployed 35-44

The number of unemployed in the 25 to 34 age group remains high and has been rising again recently:

Unemployed 25-34

Virtually unchanged in the last six months is the number of unemployed ages 44 to 55:

Unemployed 45-54

As Laura reported earlier, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka is telling Congress to “walk the walk” for jobs by passing the American Jobs and Closing Tax Loopholes bill this week.

Meanwhile, the persistent rise in long-term unemployment continues unabated. The percent of the unemployed who have been jobless for more than six months is approaching 50 percent:

Percent Unemployed 26+wks

And the number of Americans unemployed for 27 weeks or more is now approaching 7 million.

SA Unemployed 26wks+

With 5.6 job seekers for every current job opening, the need to continue eligibility for extended federal unemployment insurance is undeniable. But for those exhausting their 26-week state benefits, and those needing to apply for their next EUC Tier I through IV, that eligibility will end June 2nd if Congress fails to act.

The National Employment Law Project estimates that 1.2 million long-term jobless Americans would lose their unemployment insurance in June alone if the bill is not passed. And an economy struggling to get traction for recovery could slide back down in the recessionary ditch.

Tell your Representative to vote for H.R. 4213 — the American Jobs and Closing Tax Loopholes Act!

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“If you’re not for this bill, you’re not for jobs.”

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka has a few (strong) words on the Promoting American Jobs and Closing Tax Loopholes Act:

It’s crunch time for putting Americans back to work. Members of Congress often talk about jobs: Now they have a chance to back up their rhetoric with action.

This week Congress intends to vote on a jobs bill that cracks down on tax loopholes for millionaire hedge fund managers and on corporations that ship our jobs overseas. This jobs bill will put Americans back to work by repairing our crumbling infrastructure; stemming public sector layoffs in the states; encouraging more bank loans to small business; extending unemployment benefits and health benefits for the unemployed through the end of this year; and providing over 300,000 summer jobs for unemployed youth.

If you’re not for this bill, you’re not for jobs. Period.

And please, no more excuses about the budget deficit—unless and until you’re willing to make Wall Street pay its fair share to bring down the deficit. The people who are always saying “no” to jobs because of the deficit are often the same people who voted to squander our hard-earned
budget surpluses so they could shower undeserved tax breaks on rich people during the Bush years. Apparently, spending money on rich people is perfectly okay, but investing in jobs for working class Americans sets off alarm bells.

It’s time for members of Congress to walk the walk, not just talk the talk. Vote for jobs. Now.

Take action. Tell your member of Congress to pass this bill.

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Wall Street Reform Passes the Senate

On a vote of 59 to 39, the Senate passed its version of financial regulatory reform last night. Most observers I’ve been reading feel that it’s a stronger bill than originally expected, while not as strong as many would have liked.

The bill next goes to a House-Senate conference committee, where it is to be merged with a version passed last year in the House.

Here’s a sampling from some of the early reporting following the Senate’s action, in no particular order:

McClatchy:

The Senate Thursday night passed the most sweeping changes in government regulation of the nation’s financial institutions since the Great Depression, including strong new consumer and investor protections and provisions that seek to shine a bright light on the dark corners of Wall Street.

In a 59-39 vote, four Republicans joined 53 Democrats and two independents in approving the Restoring American Financial Stability Act of 2010. Two Democrats, Washington’s Maria Cantwell and Wisconsin’s Russ Feingold, as well as 37 Republicans, voted no.

Republican Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine, as well as Scott Brown of Massachusetts and Charles Grassley of Iowa voted yes; Democrats Robert Byrd of West Virginia and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, who lost in Tuesday’s primary, didn’t vote.

The House of Representatives passed a similar version, the Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2009, six months ago. The two bills must now be reconciled in negotiations between the two chambers, passed anew by each and sent to President Barack Obama for his signature, which is expected by July 4.

“Our goal is not to punish the banks, but to protect the larger economy and the American people,” Obama said Thursday.

[The bill] also would create a new independent entity — called the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection — to write rules for consumer credit products such as mortgages, student loans and credit cards, aimed at preventing predatory lending and creative loans of the sort that got so many homeowners in trouble.

“If you’ve ever applied for a credit card, a student loan, or a mortgage, you know the feeling of signing your name to pages of barely understandable fine print,” Obama said Thursday. “It’s a big step for most families, but one that’s often filled with unnecessary confusion and apprehension. As a result, many Americans are simply duped into hidden fees and loans they just can’t afford by companies that know exactly what they’re doing.”

Yglesias:

The Senate avoided the recent custom of the minority engaging in maximum obstruction to slow down the passage of a law that has the votes to pass, and wound up voting in favor of an overhaul of Wall Street regulation last night: “The vote was 59 to 39, with four Republicans joining the Democratic majority in favor of the bill. Two Democrats opposed the measure, saying it was still not tough enough.”

Next up, the bill needs to be merged with the House version of regulatory reform that passed last summer. In this case the House and Senate bills are different in non-trivial ways on pretty much all the major fronts—resolution authority, prudential regulation, consumer protection, and derivatives—so it’s not totally obvious how this is going to play out. Another interesting issue will be the vote count in the House when the bill comes out again. The House version of the legislation was a classic Obama-era bill that passed by a razor-thin margin with no Republicans in favor and many moderate Democrats against. The Senate bill, by contrast, had four Republican yesses and two nos from the left.

Joan McCarter at Daily Kos:

In a vote of 59-39, the Senate passed the financial reform bill. At the last moment, Wall Street got another win. They convinced Sen. Brownback to pull his car-dealer protection act so that the Merkley-Levin Volker rule amendment would also be withdrawn. Since it had been attached as a second degree amendment to Brownback, it’s fate was linked.

It’s not as strong a bill on the whole as it certainly should have been. But two warriors against Wall Street are philosophical in their view of the bill. Here’s Byron Dorgan and Bernie Sanders, talking to TPM’s Brian Beutler.

“I forced a vote on naked credit default swaps–banning naked credit default swaps,” Dorgan told me after casting in with his party. Dorgan’s amendment was tabled, but he regards the vote on a motion to table as a referendum on the legislation itself. Those 57 senators who voted to table his legislation were, in effect, voting against it.

But ultimately, he simply wasn’t interested in killing it. “This bill is short of what Congress should do, but it moves in the right direction, although it moves less aggressively than I would like to see it move,” Dorgan added. “Unlike some years ago when the issue was a piece of legislation, Gramm-Leach-Bliley, was I think just fundamentally wrong. I was very interested in stopping it. In this case I’m very interested in starting a piece of legislation that is constructively financial reform.”

….

“I think this is a step forward, there’s no question about that,” Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) told reporters after today’s vote. “I think it brings much greater regulation, I think it brings much greater transparency. But I think, frankly, it is nowhere near as strong as it could be. I think at the end of the day we are going to have to address the need to break up these very very huge financial institutions, which I believe, that if they start teetering in the future they will have to be bailed out, and that’s why you ought to break them up now.”

Dorgan agrees. “As long as our country has financial institutions too big to fail, I think you’re going to have failure,” Dorgan told me. “And I think ultimately the taxpayers will be called upon to bail them out.”

The fact that the Merkley-Levin amendment did not get a vote is a clear set-back for progressive efforts to strengthen the reform bill. It would have given real teeth to the so-called Volcker Rule, inserting specific restrictions on things like risky proprietary trading and hedge fund ownership by commercial banks. The bill approved last night simply empowers regulators to study what those rules might be — at best kicking that particular can down the road.

Tim Fernholz at TAPPED:

After a tense afternoon of votes stretched into the evening, the Senate passed its financial-reform legislation, setting the stage for negotiations with the House to craft a final package that will be voted on once more by both chambers before arriving on President Obama’s desk.

After the Democrats, joined by three Republicans, successfully overcame efforts to block a vote on the bill in the afternoon, 30 hours were allotted before final passage — unless Republicans could be convinced to dispense with the debate and any additional amendments.

Particularly at stake was an amendment from Sam Brownback to exempt auto dealers from consumer regulation and another amendment proposed by Sens. Merkley and Levin to strengthen a measure already in the bill to limit the kinds of risky business banks can engage in.

While the Merkley-Levin amendment could not be voted on post-cloture due to a technicality, in a clever bit of legislative jujitsu, the two attached their amendment to Brownback’s as a second-order amendment, meaning that both would have to be voted on together to enter the bill. Reformers opposed Brownback and supported Merkley-Levin, but could at least see stronger restrictions on Wall Street if Brownback succeeded.

Republicans, however, proved reluctant to force another symbolic vote that would reveal their support of Wall Street. Brownback pulled his amendment, leading to an agreement on how to proceed: After a procedural objection from Republicans that required 60 votes to set aside, voting for final passage began at approximately 8:45. The bill passed 59-39; Democrats Maria Cantwell and Russ Feingold registered their opposition from the left after amendments to strengthen the bill were left to languish, while four Republicans — Chuck Grassley, Susan Collins, Olympia Snowe, and Scott Brown — crossed the aisle to support the bill. (Two senators, Robert Byrd and Arlen Specter, did not vote.)

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Jobless Aid Bill Pushed to Next Week

The bill that would continue eligibility for extended federal unemployment benefits and other core jobless programs through the end of 2010 won’t come up in Congress until next week.

The Hill reported late yesterday:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Thursday said a vote on legislation extending several tax and spending measures will be delayed until next week. The chamber was originally expected to vote on the measure tomorrow.

The legislation will likely be posted today to give lawmakers a chance to educate themselves on the bill’s specifics.

The current plan is for the bill to go before the House Rules Committee on either Monday or Tuesday, with the full chamber voting on it later in the week.

But swift action on the bill is needed in both the House and the Senate. The same measure would have to be passed by both chambers and signed by President Obama by June 2nd. Otherwise, millions of jobless Americans faced with exhausting the 26-week state unemployment benefit would be unable to file for the extended federal programs. Eligibility for those extended programs is set to end June 2nd, when the current two-month law passed in April expires. (For clarification: the bill does not include a new ‘Tier V’ or other duration-of-coverage extension)

In addition to the jobless aid provisions, the American Jobs and Closing Tax Loopholes Act (H.R. 4213) includes other critical economic safety net, summer youth jobs and infrastructure investment programs as well as extensions of tax credits for many individuals, families and some businesses. It would provide an obviously-needed boost to spur economic recovery, and it would finally deal a huge blow in favor of tax fairness by eliminating the loopholes that allow wealthy investment fund managers and corporations to avoid paying their fair share in taxes.

So it’s no surprise that, as Laura reported earlier, Republicans are hoping to slice and dice the bill.

By delaying the measure until next week, House Democratic leaders have more time to work on gaining support from wavering Blue Dogs. It also gives grassroots supporters more time to tell Congress to pass the American Jobs and Closing Tax Loophole Act (H.R. 4213).

Support for the bill is also coming from some new quarters. Citizens for Tax Justice, which had not supported the “tax extenders” provisions in previous versions of the legislation, has gotten behind H.R. 4213 now big time:

While we have never supported the “tax extenders,” we believe that this is a more responsible approach than Congress used in the past, when the tax extenders were deficit-financed. We also believe that the loophole-closing provisions used to pay for them will enhance tax fairness. For these reasons, we believe passage of this bill would be a major victory in that it shows Congress is finally putting the economic needs of ordinary Americans ahead of tax cuts for the wealthy and powerful.

CTJ has released an excellent report (pdf) highlighting the provisions to close the massive tax loopholes that companies, hedge fund managers, private equity fund managers and others use to avoid paying their fair share in U.S. taxes.

With so much at stake for tens of millions of Americans struggling with persistent and increasing long-term unemployment, time is of the essence. Tell Congress to act and act quickly.

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States Raising Taxes to Fill Budget Deficits

As we’ve been saying, the recession is taking a toll on state governments, most of whom have some serious budget deficits to cover. States have been closing down branch libraries, laying off employees, initiating furlough days; anything to save some money. The combination of decreased revenue and federal aid is putting most states in a terrible bind.

Some states are going for the last resort. They’re actually raising taxes:

Wisconsin, like many states, turned mainly to wealthier residents and businesses. The big-ticket item was a new top personal income tax bracket, which Gov. Jim Doyle said “wasn’t even that hard a call.”

“We were in a terrible spot, and the alternative was cut schools, universities and do long-term damage,” Doyle said. “So if you’re making over $300,000 in this economy, you can help out a little bit.”

and

In New York, the eye-popping change was a new top rate expected to generate $3.9 billion in income taxes in 2010. Among dozens of changes, the state made limousine rides subject to a sales tax ($25.6 million) and expanded bottle deposits to water and flavored water ($115 million).

A 1-cent sales tax bump in California could bring in $4.5 billion.

This week, Arizona’s Governor Jan Brewer signed a bill increasing the sales tax by one cent, in order to help ward off cuts to education and other services. She even did this in an election year:

Here, the sales tax increase, a temporary rise to 6.6 cents per dollar for the next three years, is expected to raise nearly $1 billion in the first year, two-thirds of which will go to education. It won approval by 64 percent of voters, though only a third of eligible voters turned out.

It does nothing to erase cuts already made, including the loss of all-day kindergarten, health care reductions for the poor, and the closing of several state parks and highway rest stops, precipitated by a 30 percent decline in revenue.

But Ms. Brewer, and a coalition of politically odd bedfellows, including the state teachers’ union, business groups and office holders from both major parties, sold it as a necessary evil to avoid teacher layoffs and cuts to public safety.

In Oklahoma the state Senate is looking at suspending a number of income tax credits that have been given to certain industries:

The bill approved by the Senate General Conference Committee on Appropriations targets 31 separate tax credits, including certain job creating investments that cost the state an estimated $14.2 million annually.

Three separate tax credits for aerospace employers total more than $3.5 million. Other tax credits were for the purchase and production of coal, investments in agricultural processing facilities and the construction of energy-efficient homes.

Rather than eliminate the tax credits entirely, the bill proposes a moratorium from July 2010 through June 2012.

That taxes are being raised in an election year shows how dire the economic situation really is.

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