Workers’ comp rate increase could affect economic recovery

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For the local Chambers of Commerce

Although Arun Raha, the state's chief economist, says Washington's recession may be over, the state is still struggling to find its way toward economic recovery. Figures just released show 330,800 people are out of work in Washington. Skagit County comes in with an unemployment rate of 9.2 percent, or more than 5,500 local people jobless.

With Washington's economy still fragile, you'd hope leaders in Olympia would be seeking ways to get people working again — and at the very least, resist creating any barriers to economic recovery. Unfortunately, state government seems to live in a different world than the rest of us.

Last month, the state Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) announced a proposal to increase workers' compensation insurance premiums by an average of 7.6 percent. The insurance pays for medical care, rehabilitation and replacement of lost wages for injured workers. Washington is only one of four states that requires employers to purchase their insurance from state government.

L&I Director Judy Schurke acknowledged the timing's lousy.

“I know that any increase adds to the challenges that businesses and workers face in this tough economy,” she said.

Nevertheless, L&I is pushing forward, saying higher costs, fewer premiums because of reduced hours worked, and lost jobs are the reason for the $120 million tax hike on employers. It doesn't say, however, that administrative costs are up 28 percent in the last year, even though workers' compensation claims have continued to decline. That suggests reforms are needed to lower costs and keep premiums down.

How will this rate increase affect you?

Washington is the only state in the nation where workers pay a substantial portion of premiums. When rates go up, your paycheck goes down. For many families living paycheck to paycheck, any income reduction is significant.

Many local businesses are struggling to keep their doors open. I am concerned this would add to their burdens, making it more expensive to retain workers, and taking money that could be used to hire new workers. In this economy, the state shouldn't be prolonging unemployment.

Two weeks ago (Sept. 30), the Courier-Times wrote, “The evidence of a budding economic recovery in Skagit County, though encouraging, is mixed with statistics showing activity is still down in most sectors of the economy.”

I believe we are on the cusp of heading for better times in the economy, even though recovery may be slow. Let's not sabotage it now.

Six public hearings will be held statewide before the final workers' compensation rate is adopted. I urge you to get involved and speak up. Written comments will be accepted before Nov. 7 to: Department of Labor and Industries, P.O. Box 44140, Olympia, WA 98504-4140, or you can e-mail them to Ronald Moore, Employment Services Program manager at: MOOA235@lni.wa.gov.

Public hearings:

  • Tukwila: Oct. 27, 1 p.m., L&I Office, 12806 Gateway Dr.
  • Tumwater: Oct. 28, 10 a.m., L&I Headquarters, 7273 Linderson Way S.W.
  • Vancouver: Oct. 28, 10 a.m., Red Lion Inn at the Quay, 100 Columbia St.
  • Bellingham: Oct. 29, 1 p.m., Bellingham Quality Inn, 100 E. Kellogg Rd.
  • Spokane: Oct. 30, 9 a.m., Spokane Airport Ramada, 8909 W. Airport Dr.
  • Richland: Oct. 30, 2 p.m., Richland Hampton Inn, 486 Bradley Blvd.

EDITOR'S NOTE: State Rep. Dan Kristiansen, R-Snohomish, represents the 39th Legislative District, and also serves as chairman of the Washington House Republican Caucus. He can be contacted at (360) 786-7967 or e-mail him and sign up for his e-newsletter at: houserepublicans.wa.gov/Kristiansen.

State Representative Dan Kristiansen, 39th Legislative District
RepresentativeDanKristiansen.com
426A Legislative Building | P.O. Box 40600 | Olympia, WA 98504-0600
dan.kristiansen@leg.wa.gov
360-786-7967 | Toll-free: (800) 562-6000