Originally created 12/20/05

State's jobless tax will decline



ATLANTA - Georgia businesses both large and small will pay less money next year on unemployment insurance taxes, state labor officials said Monday.

The tax cut will translate into a $25 million cut that most of the state's 200,000 employers will benefit from, Georgia Labor Commissioner Michael Thurmond said.

Last year, Mr. Thurmond authorized a $50 million cut for the same payments, which go into a pool of money used to cover unemployment claims.

Though the impact on an individual business will vary depending on its payroll size and history of layoffs, the average reduction in premiums will be about 5 percent.

"We think it's important primarily because of some of the economic challenges that Georgia employees are facing because of the rising fuel costs along with health benefits and interest rate increases," Mr. Thurmond said. "Hopefully, this will be of some help to them."

The department is able to afford the reduction in payments because the state has had a good track record on cutting down the length of time claimants remain unemployed and draw benefits.

The national average for an unemployed person receiving benefits is 15.3 weeks; the average in Georgia is 11.5 weeks. That difference equals $171 million the state does not have to pay out.

For some of the state's major corporations, which pay millions annually into the unemployment fund, the cut could bring significant relief.

But small-business owners also said they welcome the reduction.

Kurt Eyrich, the owner of Augusta Millwork Inc. in Richmond County, said he has paid $1,600 so far this year in unemployment insurance premiums.

"I'll take anything I can get right now," said Mr. Eyrich, who has six employees. "From the standpoint of all your expenses going up, it's always good to have something that comes downward, especially taxes. Taxes never go down."

Georgia currently has the second-lowest unemployment insurance tax rates in the Southeast, behind Florida, according to labor officials.

Even as Georgia companies send less money into the fund next year, the state's out-of-work residents could see their unemployment checks increase slightly.

Starting July 1, the maximum benefit a person can claim will go up $10 to $320 a week.

The amount also increased $10 this year, as part of a law the General Assembly approved.