Elected officials often get criticism leveled against them. It comes with the territory. When one of them takes a courageous stand knowing that criticism could soon follow, that's known as leadership.
Missouri's unemployment insurance fund went bankrupt in March 2003 and by this May, the debt had grown to $288 million. With the debt projected to be over $350 million by the end of the year, informed Missouri employers have become distraught at the prospect of lost federal unemployment tax credits and ever-increasing debt interest that just keeps growing.
Rep. Jason Crowell serves as the majority floor leader for the Missouri House of Representatives. As such, he must decide which bills will be decided and resolved. And he must work behind the scenes to ascertain the level of support from both majority and minority members.
The legislative proposal to fix Missouri's unemployment insurance problem developed during the final week of session. In the end, it represents a comprehensive rewrite of Missouri's unemployment statutes. First, the solvency is restored by permitting short-term borrowing at more favorable interest rates. Secondly, Missouri employers gain long-sought system reforms that will maintain the program for those truly unemployed through no fault of their own. Third, the tax formula is modified to reverse the multi-year trend of more in benefits being paid in comparison to contributions received. Fourth, as solvency is restored, benefits levels will increase over time with modifiers that will prevent runaway expenses hurting the system again.
Rep. Crowell was quick to understand the ramifications of this bill. While employers will pay more in the next two years to get this debt behind us, a victory is preserved as a billion dollars in federal unemployment tax credits is preserved. Employers will receive tax certainty over the next six years. The overall growth of benefits that can be such the cost-driver is strongly managed.
Rep. Crowell found time slots during the busy final week to bring this issue to the floor and get it debated. With tensions running at fever pitches, Rep. Crowell called this bill up three different times and the end result was a strong bipartisan vote of 131-30.
As the Kansas City Star commented on May 14, "House Republicans - nearly two-thirds freshmen brought in by the advent of term limits - acted less like a group serving special interests and more like a majority party that had problems to solve. The best example of that maturity was the plan that bailed out Missouri's insolvent unemployment insurance fund."
There are those who want to discount the comprehensive rewrite of our unemployment statutes as nothing more than a "tax increase." That is a major disservice to the legislators who toiled to get this issue resolved for the strong ad true benefit of all Missourians. Rep. Crowell was part of the solution, not the critic who whined about how the solution might have somehow been crafted slightly better. Congratulations, Rep. Crowell, on a job well done. Your leadership in the House will likely serve you well in the state Senate.
Kelly Gillespie, Vice president of Governmental Affairs
Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry