(Note: This is an op-ed piece written by attorney Bruce Shine — a Democrat — for the Kingsport Times-News.)
Someone needs to tell Ron Ramsey he lost the GOP primary for governor in August of 2010. Increasingly Ramsey is running around the state with a Tennessee highway patrolman as driver playing governor and issuing edicts from the “Ramsey administration.”
I recognize I’m not the swiftest boat in the harbor, but I thought Bill Haslam won both the primary and the election.
The latest from “Governor Ramsey” deals with unemployment insurance, a subject over which he objectively demonstrates a lack of knowledge.
In a presentation before a luncheon meeting of 60 business executives in Kingsport, “Governor Ramsey” made the bizarre statement that Tennesseans on unemployment enjoy “a benefit … (which) has become a lifestyle.”
Seeking to ingratiate himself among the business community, “Governor Ramsey” concluded individuals in Tennessee enjoyed living on “an average” of “$285” as a weekly unemployment benefit. The entitlement, according to Ramsey, discouraged the unemployed from getting a job.
In fact, Tennesseans on unemployment insurance do not enjoy “an average” of $285 per week in benefits. The state maximum for individuals is $275. Thousands upon thousands draw less than the maximum. In fact Tennessee — tied with Florida — has the fourth lowest weekly benefits rate in the country.
Ramsey might try living on and supporting his family on $275 per week. That sum replaces just 29 percent of the average weekly wage rate in Tennessee. On average nationally, the replacement rate is 35 percent.
This error in the weekly benefit rate is indicative of Ramsey’s lack of knowledge concerning a benefit which he contends requires a change. Simply put “Governor Ramsey” doesn’t know what he’s talking about!
An average of “$285” per week would indicate some individuals on unemployment in the Volunteer State draw more than the average and some less. In truth, no one in Tennessee draws more than $275 per week.
According to “Governor Ramsey,” 400,000 workers in this state draw benefits from 114,000 employers. Wrong in theory and numbers. In truth the benefits provided those workers, which “Governor Ramsey” claims are a burden upon this state, are insurance payments to which they are entitled when they lose their job through no fault of their own.
Traveling about this state at the expense of you and me as taxpayers, “Governor Ramsey” shared his ignorance days later in Nashville speaking on the same topic deriding the unemployed as part of his “Red Tape Road Trip.” This time, according to WSM-TV, he got the $275 per week figure right, but wrongly again called it an “average.”
Ramsey knows better. His own press secretary was laid off in March 2010 and remained unemployed for 11 months.
Unemployment in Tennessee stands at 9.8 percent. Unemployment shot up from 4.5 percent in May 2007 to a high of 10.8 percent over a year ago during this 52-month period. Unemployment in Tennessee has hovered around 10 percent for 30 of those 52 months.
“Governor Ramsey” needs to talk with individuals out of work during this period to determine whether they have enjoyed a lavish lifestyle under a system that pays at a maximum $275 per week. How do they pay for the day-to-day essentials, let alone their mortgage?
Not content with his display of self-proclaimed ignorance, “Governor Ramsey” shed crocodile tears this past week for 233 employees of Exide in Bristol — which he purports to represent — who will lose their jobs over the next 12 to 18 months.
In pure political self-serving double-talk “Governor Ramsey” stated: “I told them that anything the state can do to keep those jobs there, we’re willing to do it.” That is of course doing everything but provide adequate unemployment benefits, which “Governor Ramsey” wants to reduce or abolish.
While Ramsey runs around with Texas Gov. Rick Perry — a “real” governor who makes George W. Bush look like a Phi Beta Kappa key holder — Perry opposes an extension of expiring jobless benefits for 3.5 million Americans without work through no fault of their own. I might add unemployment benefits for the 50 states is an average $295 a week or $20 per week more than Tennessee’s maximum.
What “Governor Ramsey ” didn’t say either here in Kingsport or in Nashville is that the state pays for the first 26 weeks, and the rest thereafter is paid by the federal government.
It’s time our lieutenant governor stopped running for governor and recognize the reason Bill Haslam is governor is because he didn’t engage in public displays of ignorance.
Ramsey can believe in that which he believes, but the citizens of this state have the right to demand that before their lieutenant governor opens his mouth, he knows of what he speaks.
Sometimes people need to be reminded from whence they cometh. Ramsey needs to do just that before opposing unemployment benefits for working-class Tennesseans, from whence he cometh.
D. Bruce Shine is a Kingsport attorney specializing in labor and employment law who is recognized by Business Tennessee Magazine as one of the “150 Best Lawyers” in Tennessee.