Calculate vote with our kids in equation

From the Everett Herald:

John Burbank, Executive Director

When I think about our future, I think about Mikey, Liana, David, Sean and Stephanie. They are among the high school students I coach in cross country at Ballard High School. They are not the fastest kids. They couldn’t even run around Green Lake last summer. But now they are completing three-mile races, pushing their times down at each race.

So what do these kids have to do with us? Everything.

They are the future of our state. They will be our nurses, mechanics, engineers, teachers, organizers, thinkers, and doers. And they are my reference when I consider the upcoming ballot initiatives. Will our votes open up the doors of education, opportunity, and health for them — or will we let them close?

Initiative 1053 would require the Legislature to pass every single tax measure by a two-thirds vote of both houses. The math works like this: 17 out of 148 legislators could effectively hold up any measure for increasing resources for education and health care. That’s not new math — that’s bad math for our kids and their future.

Initiative 1082 would take apart a workers’ compensation system that has some of the best benefits for injured workers, financed through some of the lowest rates in the country. How did this happen? The Legislature took out private insurance — the middleman that adds no value but takes a big bite of receipts for administration and profit. So if you want to hand over our injured workers’ rehabilitation and quality of life to AIG, you should support I-1082. But if we are interested in the well-being of our kids as they join the workforce, we’ll turn this one down.

Initiative 1098 gives a tax cut to 95 percent of us, while finally getting the wealthy to pay their fair share. I-1098 will bring in over $1 billion a year to public schools, to lower class sizes, pay for mandated high school courses, and finance full-day kindergarten; and it will put more money into community colleges and universities so we can stop skyrocketing tuition increases. Plus it will provide health coverage for all 120,000 people on the basic health waiting list. I-1098 enables our kids to complete a high school education that opens the door to college. It knocks down the financial barriers to getting into college. It is truly a game-changer for education and opportunity.

Initiatives 1100 and 1105 are simply greedy grasps by retailers and wholesalers to become legal drug-pushers in the guise of selling alcohol. The weird thing about these two ballot measures is that we have a good system now for the controlled sale of alcohol. Why make alcohol more available at the local corner store or Costco’s warehouses? It will only result in our kids drinking more. Alcohol is a drug. It closes down the future. Ask anyone who knows an alcoholic. Vote no on 1100 and 1105.

Initiative 1107 is the attempt to fool people into thinking that the Legislature voted through a sales tax on food. That would be accurate if your diet consisted of Snickers, Reese’s Peanut Butter cups, Kiwi Jelly Bellies, and Coca Cola. But that just makes the point. Our youth are getting obese; type 2 diabetes is close to an epidemic, and we are objecting to a tax on the candy and soda that make them unhealthy? Whether or not we have a funding crisis in our state, this tax makes sense.

Referendum 52 will finance the retrofitting our schools so that we save energy costs in the long run, and in the short run create thousands of jobs for Washington workers. What we save will easily pay back the costs of borrowing the money for these retrofits. It makes sense for our kids, for our public infrastructure, and for jobs, now.

As for those students and cross-country running, well…it isn’t glamorous. It won’t make you rich. And the kids in the back never win. But you know what? Life, for most of us, is not a race to the top and a grab for the most millions. It is trying to finish the job well, being a part of our community, and working for — and voting for — a good quality of life. Not just for ourselves and our neighbors, but for the people we don’t even know. That’s what our democracy is all about.

Remember to vote.

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Posted in An Inclusive Economy, Column, Educational Opportunity, Higher Education

Comments

  1. Doug says:

    Mr. Burbank,
    After reading your opinions on the upcoming election, your viewpoint is very clear to me; Tax and spend = good, companies that make money (profit)= bad.

    As much as I want to discuss all of your viewpoints, I wish to only tackle one: I-1082.

    Let me start by telling you that I own a small business that employs 100-150 workers (depending on season) so I would say I am slightly qualified to give an educated opinion on this topic.

    Our current system of state run workman’s comp. insurance is BROKEN. Not only is it broken, IT’S BROKE! An independent audit of the programs accident fund said that it has a 74.4% chance of INSOLVENCY within 2 years. 90% chance within 5. How will the state fix this? Raise rates once again!

    In fact, L&I Director Judy Schurke told legislators back in September that they would not release the (which we know will be) huge rate hike numbers until November (numbers are normally released in Sept). Her reasons for this? She says that if I-1082 passes, the numbers will have to be “thrown out” and that releasing numbers now might “confuse” business owners! Really what she is saying is she doesn’t want to influence votes towards passing I-1082! If the current system is so good, it should be able to stand on it’s own merits.

    Also, how does riddling Washington State employers with MORE taxes help our economy? I’ll help you here: It doesn’t. Not passing I-1082 will kill jobs and reverse any economic growth for years. Privatizing workman’s comp. insurance is done in 46 other states. The only reason Washington does not embrace it is because it’s trying to protect those government UNION jobs. Notice who’s opposing it? Not Washington’s small businesses, UNIONS.

    In closing I would ask you this, John: Name one industry that government does better than the private sector? You’re correct, there isn’t one. This is why the government should not be in the insurance business (or any other). Governments job is to GOVERN and REGULATE. That is the only business they should be in.

    Thank You,
    Doug

    • Doug,

      Washington’s workers compensation system does not exist in order to turn a profit, any more than our schools and colleges, roads and rail systems, public health programs, or parks and natural areas do. It exists in order to protect employers from lawsuits that would otherwise result from job-related injuries and illnesses, and to ensure workers receive fair compensation for those injuries and illnesses. In other words, it is a social good.

      So the question is, are we accomplishing that at relatively low cost (to employers) and high benefit (to workers)? Let’s take a look at how Washington compares to other states to find out.

      In terms of costs for employers, Washington’s premiums are fifth lowest in the nation. And we are the only state in the nation where workers pay a portion of the workers’ compensation premiums, estimated by the Washington State Department Labor and Industries to be 28% of the costs. So that part of the system certainly isn’t broken.

      On the other side of the equation, Washington workers receive relatively high benefits in comparison to other states. The National Academy of Social Insurance’s most recent analysis of 2006 data found that Washington paid $1.63 in benefits for every $100 in covered wages, which ranked our state third highest in the nation. So that part of the system isn’t broken either.

      How can Washington afford to pay high benefits while charging low premiums? Because unlike privatized systems, there are no profit margins, commissions or brokerage fees, no marketing or advertising costs to pass on, and significantly lower claims administration costs.

      Here’s one example: South Carolina is one of 16 states that has an average total disability benefit that is less than the federal poverty threshold, according to National Academy of Social Insurance data. But employers in South Carolina’s privatized system pay more for workers’ compensation coverage than employers in Washington pay, according to both the Oregon and Insurance Information Institute studies.

      As for your claim that workers compensation system is “broke”, you have confused a negative contingency reserve balance with financial insolvency of the whole system. The contingency reserve is only a fraction of the system’s current total assets of $11 billion. That contingency reserve has been drawn down before in order to keep workers’ comp premiums stable and predictable as required by the Legislature. In fact, over the years the contingency reserve has fluctuated from a high of more than $2 billion to below zero, depending on the economy.

      Finally, it should be noted that many small business owners oppose Initiative 1082. You can read what some of them have to say by clicking here.

  2. Doug says:

    Mr. Keating,

    I am aware that Washington’s Workman’s Comp. is not designed to generate profit. I am also familiar with WHY Workman’s Comp. insurance exists, but thank you for explaining it to me once again. My opinion of Washington’s Workman’s Comp. wasn’t reached by reading stats comparing Washington to other states or listening to L&I tell me how great I have it as an employer. I don’t have to, I own a business and I live it, everyday. I have watched in painful agony as L&I has paid (or is currently paying) fraudulent claims that go on for years and years and I can do nothing about it!

    There is a radio ad playing that if you know someone that is cheating the state out of workman’s comp. insurance, you should report them! I laugh when I listen. Truth is, if the state cared about fraud so much, they would spend more time and effort investigating and disproving claims instead of rolling over and taking the workers word for it!

    However, I want to comment on your viewpoints. As I was reading them, I thought they sounded very familiar, like I had read them before…..then I remembered! It was an article written and posted on the Washington State Labor Council’s website (which, as we all know, represents hundreds of Washington State Unions). As I mentioned in my first posting, Unions are the “muscle” behind killing I-1082. So I would ask: Which union do you represent, Mr. Keating?

    As I said in my first posting, if our current system is so wonderful, chuck full of low premiums and high benefits (as you say), then why do 46 other states have it privatized? Why do Microsoft, Boeing and 350+ of Washington’s largest employers chose to “opt out” and self-insure? Because they know what I know; our current state run Workman’s Comp. system is poorly run and managed, and they (the employer) can do a better job of managing their own claims and get people back to work.

    Last year’s rates jumped by 7 percent. It’s rumored that this years rates could increase by 25 to 30 percent above last years hike! So, tell me again how well Washington State L&I run this program……? How will this help Washington businesses and grow our economy?

    • I can appreciate that your opinion is based on your experience with fraud. But you’ve offered no evidence – other than your own experience – that fraud in Washington is worse than in other states. Nor have you offered any evidence that I-1082’s proposed reforms will change or limit the fraud you see in the system. Washington actually makes it pretty easy to file a report, right on their own website. So if you have some factual proof to support your claims that the state isn’t investigating fraud sufficiently, please produce it.

      You speculate as to the reason other states have private systems, you offer no way to substantiate your claims, and no independently verifiable facts to support it. As for rate increases, you are quoting very selectively from the facts. As recently as 2007, rates dropped by 35%. You can see a complete history of rate changes over time here.

      Facts are facts, which I think accounts for why you see more than one person note that Washington’s existing worker’s compensation system pays good benefits to workers and offers low premiums to businesses, and costs less because there are no profit margins, commissions or brokerage fees, no marketing or advertising costs to pass on, and significantly lower claims administration costs.

      (In response to your other question, I work for the Economic Opportunity Institute, an independent and nonprofit (501(c)3) public policy organization.)

  3. Doug says:

    Ahhh….Mr. Keating. Here are some facts:
    In Washington, the average injured worker with a time-loss claim misses 270 days of work. This is more than TWICE the national average. By the way, Oregon’s average time loss rate is about 70 days.

    Washington has the dubious honor of the highest pension rate in the nation. More than 50% of injured workers are likely to receive a pension from L&I if they’ve been off work more than 2 years. IN FACT, pension rates have increased by more then 300% since 1996!

    As I have said before, Washington’s Workman’s comp. system is broken, but it is now time for the voters to speak. Before I go, I would like to mention one last thing; you say that you work for the EOI which is an independent, non-profit public policy org. However, by looking at all the different articles posted on your website, every one of them supports a leftist liberal tax and spend viewpoint. I also notice that my comments do not get posted UNTIL you have formulated your rebuttal. This tells me a lot about your organization!

    Good debating you, Lefty!

    • Since L&I has already debunked your statements about time-loss claims and pension length, I’m just going to quote them here:

      Q: Does the average injured worker in Washington miss 274 days of work?

      A: It is incorrect and misleading to say the average injured worker in Washington misses 274 days of work. Here are the facts:

      * 72 percent of injured workers receive no wage replacement for missed days of work and, instead, receive only medical coverage.
      * Of injured workers who receive wage-replacement benefits (also referred to as time-loss), about one-third receive only one payment (two weeks pay or less) and about half receive payment for 40 days or less.
      * L&I’s median time-loss duration is 40 days, which compares favorably to a national study (National Council on Compensation Insurance) of 37 states that shows a median time-loss duration of 45 days. (Median means that half of the time-loss claims are longer than 40 days and half are shorter.)

      As for the specific number of 274, this number is not the average for all injured workers. It is an actuarial estimate for only a specific group of workers. It does not include the vast majority of workers who were injured but did not lose time from work.

      It includes workers who were kept on salary by their employers, and it does not include workers who lose three days or less of work. The actuarial estimate measures only those time-loss claims in which the worker was out of work for more than three days. This group includes long-term claims, and those kinds of claims drive the system average up – 8% of claims represent 88% of the system’s total costs.

      And:

      Q: Is it correct that nearly half of injured workers in Washington never return to their jobs?

      A: No, it’s not correct. Here are the facts for State Fund claims:

      * About 1.5% of all claims become pensions.
      * About 5.25% of claims involving wage-replacement benefits become pensions.
      * About 2 to 3% of all claims stay open three years, most having limited return-to-work options. For these three-year-old claims, there is a 50% chance they will eventually result in a pension.

      As for the viewpoints of Economic Opportunity Institute, all I can tell you is that our policy proposals and recommendations are based on actual, verifiable facts – not ideology, rhetoric, or anecdote.

      Oh, and this is our comment policy (you’ll also find a link to it on the front page of this blog).

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