Offering frequent news and analysis from the majestic Evergreen State and beyond, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Excellent response to lousy P-I column

Last week, I told you about a couple of lousy columns that the P-I had decided to put on its editorial page - including a column written by a couple of Republican Wenatchee lawmakers who were essentially trying to intervene to defend the BIAW's state sponsored cash cow.

Well, today, the P-I, in the interest of hearing both viewpoints, is printing a rebuttal column - "State's 'retro' program needs repair" by Democrats Mark Doumit and Bill Fromhold.

The column is an excellent response to the lousy reasons set forth last week for keeping the status quo and letting the BIAW off the hook in regards to its abuse of the retro rebate system.

First, they explain how the system works:
The program allows employers who provide similar services to pool their resources and create unified safety programs. These "retro groups" are managed by trade associations. In return for their commitment to safety, groups may receive rebates from the state's workers' compensation funds.

Here's how it works. Companies pay their workers' compensation premiums into the retro groups. The money is collected by trade associations and sent to the Department of Labor and Industries. The agency puts the money into the workers' compensation funds. At the end of the year, rebates are sent back to the associations with favorable safety records.

Most retro groups pass this savings on to their members but some organizations do not. Under current law, the associations that form retro groups may collect a fee to cover administrative costs. However, there is no limit to the size of fee they can charge.
Then they go on to explain the circumstances surrounding the BIAW's abuse of the system:
A building industry association runs one of the largest retro groups. It is also one of the greatest beneficiaries under the current system. In one year, 96 cents of every dollar the group paid into workers' compensation was paid out to injured workers. But because the group is so large, it received 24 percent of its premiums back in the form of a rebate.

In other words, the association received a rebate of more than $25 million even though the difference between premiums paid in and losses paid out amounted to a little more than $3 million.

Then, the association turned around and charged its own members a 20 percent fee, generating millions of dollars more than the cost of administration. This money could have been used to promote worker safety or to reduce workers' compensation premiums. Instead, it was funneled into political campaigns.
Yeah - political campaigns to help elect Republicans and Republican friendly judges to office. The BIAW has spent millions helping failed gubernatorial candidate Dino Rossi, helping elect Jim Johnson to the Supreme Court, and helping elect Rob McKenna as Attorney General.

No wonder the Republicans are so interested in defending the BIAW! It's like having your own bank - and the best part is, the people that run the bank don't care about ethics or have any respect for the system they're abusing, so there's no limit on what you can and can't do.

But it shouldn't be this way. As much as the Republicans are fond of their cash cow, this flagrant abuse of the system is simply unfair to businesses and to workers. By reforming the system, we have a chance to help both businesses and workers.
We need to fix the inequities in the retro program and return the program to its original intent of helping small and medium-sized businesses control their workers' compensation rates and keep their workers safe.
And that's the note on which Doumit and Fromhold end their column.

The bottom line is that money set aside in the public trust to promote worker safety should be spent on worker safety.

A chance to help small business? As I noted in my blog several days ago, if the Republicans actually believe in their own ideology, they should be jumping all over this. If they're more concerned about preserving the status quo, then at least we know what their priorities are. That would signal that winning elections is their highest priority.

And they don't want to send that kind of message - do they?

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