TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) _ Gov. Rick Scott doesn't think much of a plan floated by the Obama administration that would delay an increase in unemployment compensation taxes paid by employers.
A Florida House panel, meanwhile, agreed Thursday to file a bill designed to give employers tax relief by reducing benefits for jobless workers and making it harder for them to get compensation.
The state legislation is a better solution than the federal proposal, said Scott spokesman Brian Hughes.
“Band-Aids and quick fixes from a federal government that spends money faster than it is printed will not solve real problems,'' Hughes said in an e-mail.
The Obama administration's proposal would keep tax rates in check for the immediate future, but employers then could face higher payments in 2014.
It also would postpone for two years the interest payments that Florida and other states owe on federal money they've borrowed to pay jobless claims after their own funds ran out.
Florida, which has one of the nation's highest unemployment rates at 12 percent, has borrowed more than $2 billion and a $61.5 million interest payment is due by the end of this year. Scott has proposed making that payment with general tax dollars rather than passing it on to employers.
Scott's policies drew criticism from Badili Jones, a spokesman for Florida New Majority, a group that advocates for the unemployed.
“Gov. Scott is taking two pounds of flesh from the middle class and working families in Florida,'' Jones said in a statement.
He said one pound comes from the benefits cut and the other from paying the interest with tax dollars collected from all Floridians.
The House bill (HB 7005) would reduce the maximum number of weeks from 26 to 20 that an unemployed worker could receive state compensation as long the jobless rate is 9 percent or higher. If it goes lower a sliding scale would kick to reduce the maximum number of weeks to as few as 12 if the rate drops below 5 percent.
“We are taking one step further in fundamentally altering the system to aid with re-employment rather than a system that merely provides unemployment compensation,'' said Rep. Doug Holder, a Sarasota Republican who chairs the House Economic Development & Tourism Subcommittee. “This bill is designed to bring consistency and fairness to the unemployment system.''
The bill, approved on a 7-4 party-line vote with Republicans in the majority, also would require Floridians to complete a skills review before they can collect compensation. Other provisions would make it easier for employers to prove misconduct for which benefits can be denied and no longer give workers the benefit of the doubt in appeals.
Most employers' taxes would drop due to a 10 percent reduction in the benefit ratio calculation used to compute rates that are based on each employer's layoff history over three years.
Taxes are paid on the first $7,000 of wages for each employee. Florida has an automatic trigger that raises and lowers rates depending on the unemployment situation. Unless the Legislature intervenes, as it did last year, the minimum rate _ paid by employers with no layoffs _ will increase from $25.20 per employee to $72.10 in 2011. The maximum will remain unchanged at $378.
Employers also are facing a $9.51 per worker assessment for the interest payment unless the state picks up that expense.
Florida faced a similar situation last year, but the Legislature passed a bill that sharply reduced the automatic rate increase. It was passed on the opening day of the 2010 session and signed into law within hours by then-Gov. Charlie Crist.