Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Why wobbly at thought of federal help?

In golf, it's a gimme. In hoops, it's a slam dunk. In baseball, it's a gopher pitch.

Each is a can't-miss opportunity.

Don't look now, but Texas has a $550 million gimme putt set up near the cup. And — is that a fairway wood Rick Perry has pulled out, with Republican cohorts saying, "Knock that sucker into the swamp"?

At issue is money in the economic stimulus package Texas will lose if it won't give an inch on miserly policies on unemployment compensation.

Yes, half a billion dollars to help Texans and to shore up the state's unemployment trust fund. We can't have that.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal says the same. So does Mississippi's Haley Barbour. What they mean is — hey, we have our jobs. What use is this to us?

Ah, but Governor, even you could find yourself unemployed.

Honestly, this dispute is over something so minor, relative to benefits to the states, that heads should be examined.

The biggest sticking point, apparently, is granting pro-rated unemployment payments to people who must fall back on part-time jobs when their full-time jobs evaporate. Texas doesn't do that now.

A few other changes would be required, but they aren't oppressive. Opponents of accepting the money say that once the money goes away the state will have to raise taxes on employers to make up the difference. Not so. If the state wants to return to its hard-hearted Ebenezer Scrooge ways once the stimulus money dries up, no one can stop it.

The fact is that because Texas has done so little to keep pace with its needs, its unemployment kitty is in dire straits. In other words, the stimulus money is manna from heaven, and not a moment too soon.

All things considered, this is a slam dunk — one for which the federal government has supplied a mini-trampoline.

But it's quite a leap on elephant feet.

We've seen this behavior before, sadly.

In 2003 the newly GOP-controlled Texas Legislature painted a masterpiece in false economy when it threw up roadblocks to enrolling in or keeping eligibility for the Children's Health Insurance Program.

This is a program for which the federal government kicks in $2.52 for every dollar a state spends.

Under that formula, in 2003 Texas forfeited $958 million, which other states gladly raked in. So doing, those states spared themselves unnecessary costs when the preventive care embodied by CHIP kept children out of emergency rooms and in school.

Don't look now, but the federal government has set up another gimme putt mere centimeters from Texas' cup — a dramatic expansion of CHIP.

Will Texas take full advantage of it? Or will it find some reason to rationalize more obstinacy — maybe so as not to spoil its No. 1 ranking for highest percentage of uninsured citizens. Point of pride, you know.

It's fascinating to see the split among Republican governors about federal assistance in hard times. Republicans like California's Arnold Schwarzenegger and Florida's Charlie Crist are looking at their states' needs and saying, "People are hurting. This will help. We'll take it."

Meanwhile, figures like Perry, Jindal and Barbour (oh, and don't forget Alaska's chief moose hunter) are auditioning for the next call for "Dancing With the Anti-Government Stars."

They might impress the judges. You bet. Everyone looks good in sequins.

Yeah, well, if a comptroller's forecast holds, 111,000 Texans will lose their jobs in the next calendar sweep.

Et tu, Governor?

John Young writes for Cox Newspapers. E-mail: jpyoung@grandecom.net.

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