Gov. Jay Nixon signed House Bill 163 extending unemployment benefits in the state for an additional 20 weeks Wednesday afternoon.
The benefits will utilize $105 million in federal funding, which drew the earlier ire of several state senators, including local Sen. Brian Nieves, R-Washington.
The four senators blocked the bill for weeks but lifted their filibuster last week.
The bill was amended to cut the state's unemployment benefits from 26 to 20 weeks. It passed the Senate Monday and the House Tuesday.
Gov. Jay Nixon has yet to make a move on adding 20 weeks of unemployment benefits for out-of-work Missourians.
House Bill 163, which would approve $105 million in federal funds to provide an extension for those in the state who have already received all 79 weeks of regular benefits, was approved by the state House and Senate this week.
Sen. Brian Nieves, R-Washington, and three other senators had stalled the issue previously, saying they wanted to reject the measure because of the use of unbudgeted federal stimulus dollars.
Nixon urged the men to let the bill pass, but the senators said they wanted $300 million in other cuts funded by stimulus dollars instead.
What they got was a promise from Senate President Pro Tem Rob Mayer to look at cutting $250 million in projects and a cut of six weeks from the state's 26 weeks of benefits.
Unemployment benefits beyond that 20 weeks will be funded by the federal government, as they currently are beyond the first 26 weeks.
The House passed the bill Tuesday 138-13.
The Senate passed it Monday, 28-5. Nieves and his filibuster partners made up four of those five no votes.
If Nixon does sign the bill, he'll have to accept the reduction in state benefits.
That cut should save state employers roughly $108 million.
House Minority Leader Mike Talboy, D-Kansas City, told The St. Louis Post-Dispatch the reduction in future benefits was a concession to "the lunatic fringe over in the Senate."
House leaders said the bill was approved without any thought to the $250 million in cuts promised by Mayer.
House Speaker Steve Tilley said the promise won't be honored by the House as he and other leaders weren't consulted before the promise was made.
The Missouri Senate passed the bill for a jobless benefits extension Monday.
Four state senators, including Sen. Brian Nieves, R-Washington, had been filibustering the bill last week. They agreed to end that filibuster Friday after a pledge from Senate leadership to cut $250 million in other stimulus funding.
Those four senators and one other voted against the bill Monday, however. The bill passed and will advance to the House.
State Sen. Brian Nieves, R-Washington, and three of his colleagues agreed Thursday to end a filibuster of a bill that would extend unemployment benefits for unemployed Missourians.
Wednesday the group of conservative senators said they would abandoned the filibuster if the governor rejected hundreds of millions of other federal funds they deemed were wasteful spending.
Nieves, and three others — Sens. Jim Lembke, R-Lemay, Rob Schaff, R-St. Joseph, and Will Kraus, R-Lee’s Summit — want Gov. Jay Nixon to make cuts in House Bill 18, which allocates $570 million dollars of stimulus money for various projects.
“Ask yourself whether or not these…dollars are worthy expenditures,” Nieves said Wednesday at a press conference. “Are they more worthy than the hurting families in Missouri that are waiting for unemployment benefits?”
He said the choice to oppose the unemployment benefits had little to do with what the dollars were for and more to do with the fact they were unbudgeted stimulus money from the federal government.
“As we battle to fulfill the promise that we, Sen. Lembke and I, made to drastically reduce the amount of federal stimulus funds that come to the state of Missouri, we will go after the pieces as they present themselves,” Nieves said.
“How long people get unemployment benefits has never been the issue,” he said. “The unemployment benefits piece was simply the very first one to come down for us to be able to make a yes or no move on.
Nieves said he and the other senators felt the unemployment issue was a good one to reach out to the governor on because of his claim last week that it was one of his priorities.
“My thought was that in good faith we might be able to sit down with the governor and be able to cut down some of these stimulus dollars,” he said. “We frankly got tired of waiting on him to respond.”
Nieves has had more success dealing with his own party.
Senate President Pro Tem Rob Mayer Thursday pledged to help the four senators find $250 million in federal stimulus spending that can be cut from the state’s budget.
The state also will cut six weeks from its current 26 weeks of jobless benefits however, which would shorten the available benefits to those laid off in the future and save Missouri employers money.
About 10,000 Missourians have run out of unemployment benefits because of the senators blocking the extension, according to the Associated Press.
Those residents have been out of work for a year and a half.
The new Senate bill was referred Thursday to the Senate’s Ways, Means and Fiscal Oversight Committee. If approved by the Senate, it will head to the House and then to Nixon’s desk.
Nieves said he expects the bill to be voted out of the Senate next week.
“I won,” Lembke declared Thursday, citing his goal of rejecting as much stimulus money as possible.
“I don’t know that I’m as gleeful as Sen. Lembke,” Nieves told The Missourian Friday. “I look at this as having been my very first battle in trying to reduce the amount of Chinese money that we have and I think the result of this whole thing was good enough for me to be happy with the results.
“We only removed $250, maybe $300 million. I’d look at this more as a battle we won in a continuing war,” he said.
Nieves said he wants to reject more of the unbudgeted federal dollars, but is not opposed to all federal dollars.
“There are ways the state of Missouri has entered into a fairly equitable partnership with the federal government, like with the interstate highway system,” he said. “I don’t really have a big problem with those types of dollars.
“I think even if we were not in horrible debt, I’d still be unfriendly of the idea of the federal government sending money to states outside the normal budget process,” Nieves said.
At Odds With Nixon
Nieves said the stimulus money Nixon is seeking is “some of the most horrific, stupid (and) egregious spending that we could ever use tax dollars — or, I’m sorry, Chinese dollars — to pay for.”
Nixon issued a written statement saying he will continue to work with Senate leadership to reauthorize the $105 million in jobless benefits as well as the $189 in stimulus funds the four senators are filibustering which would go to schools, according to the AP.
“I support and stand with the thousands of Missourians who have lost jobs through no fault of their own,” Nixon said.
Nixon spokesman Scott Holste declined Friday to comment on the Senate’s proposed compromise.
The four senators outlined some of the spending they wanted to see cut — $170-plus million for weatherization and energy efficiency loans, $50 million for wastewater infrastructure loans, about $23 million for a high-speed rail corridor between Kansas City and St. Louis, over $14.1 million for health care technology, $5 million for energy audits of farmers and several million more.
Lembke Thursday said he was confident the Senate would be able to come up with $250 million to cut.
Nieves said his constituents in the 26th District support his stance on the cuts.
“I wonder sometimes whether or not I might be too hardcore (of a conservative) for the district. I’m about as far to the right as I can be,” he said.
Nieves said in a recent survey for district residents sent out via mail and available online at mo.senate.gov/nieves, about 62 percent of 1,000 respondents have been in favor of supporting “cutting state spending in Missouri by $500 million, even if drastic cutbacks would be made.”
He said he is seeking additional responses to the five-question survey.
Missouri is one of about three dozen states participating in the federal program providing an additional 20 weeks of jobless benefits on top of the existing 79-week program, according to the AP.
Seven other states eligible to participate have not passed legislation to join the program, but Missouri has been the first to join the program and later voluntarily quit.