Saving jobs but not making them
Businesses got the best they could hope for out of legislation that resets the unemployment tax rates to roughly the same level they were two years ago, allowing employers to avoid a crippling surge that would have nearly doubled the tax.
Even with that reset, unemployment insurance taxes paid by Hawai'i businesses remain the highest in the nation, costing the average business about $630 a year per employee. And the reset is only temporary. Like so many other "until the economy improves" measures, the tax will rocket up to $1,500 per average worker in two years, so we'll be having this discussion again before too long.
Gov. Linda Lingle and business interests had sought an even lower unemployment tax to take effect immediately. That would have certainly helped businesses trying to maintain their financial footing and maybe even encouraged some of them to do some hiring.
But the bottom line is that businesses got a break and the Legislature gets points for understanding what was at stake. Leaders acted with uncharacteristic speed in holding hearings and getting the bills passed and on to Lingle for signing into law before the first tax payments were due.
In an effort to not only save jobs but to create some, the Lingle administration is making a commendable effort to encourage businesses to hire unemployed workers by offering financial incentives that include having the state temporarily pay half the worker's health insurance premium.
An innovative idea, but check out the Sunday classifieds or Craigslist to see what an arid wasteland the Hawai'i job market is. Few are hiring, no matter how attractive the incentives from government.