Locke Signs UI Insurance Bill

“Governor Gary Locke applauded passage of a long-negotiated measure to slash unemployment insurance taxes paid by Washington business and provide millions of dollars to help laid-off workers train for new occupations. The governor signed the bill yesterday. This is an example of bipartisan cooperation at its finest, Locke said. All of us, Democrats and Republicans, my administration and the legislature, business and labor groups, worked out a very difficult issue that will greatly benefit business by lowering their taxes, and will help dislocated workers by providing money to get them back to work. This is truly good economic policy, and ultimately, our whole economy benefits, Locke added.The measure will: – Cancel a 23 percent increase in the UI tax due in April. – Cut the unemployment tax for most Washington employers, saving them a total of $576 million over the next six years. The legislation will also make UI taxes less volatile from year to year through changes in the calculation in the taxable wage base. – Provide $140 million over six years in additional training benefits to laid-off timber, fish, aerospace and other workers who are enrolled in retraining programs for high-demand fields. Aerospace, timber and fish workers will qualify for up to 74 weeks of benefits until June 30, 2002 and for up to 52 weeks through June 30, 2005.Other dislocated workers will qualify for up to 52 weeks throughout the same six-year period. Normally, laid-off workers are eligible for up to 30 weeks of benefits. Locke said the tax cut is long overdue given the health of the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund, which now stands at $1.7 billion – enough to ensure sustained coverage of unemployment insurance claims during a recession. Locke said he was especially pleased about new funding to help laid-off workers retrain. We have an exponentially growing demand for high-technology workers and we have employers who can’t fill thousands of these jobs. This is an opportunity to get Washington workers trained and back into being productive, tax-paying citizens. The Washington State Department of Employment Security estimates that 20,000 dislocated workers will benefit from extended benefits that help them afford retraining programs.”