Lieutenant governor candidate Mary Taylor has been touring Ohio, arguing that the Ohio Workers’ Compensation system is “a great deterrent for business.” For those of us who have practiced in workers’ compensation for many years, this sounds very familiar.
Back in 1993,George Voinovich, while running for governor, promised that he would fix the “workers’ compensation problem” created by years of Democratic control. He ran on the proposition that workers’ compensation was the “silent killer of jobs.” After being elected, Mr. Voinovich appointed a task force that made proposals that ultimately lead to the passing of House Bill 107. House Bill 107 made substantial changes in workers’ compensation law, including the introduction of managed care, subrogation and workers’ compensation fraud. Also during the Voinovich years, the legislature passed House Bill 7 which conferred upon the governor the sole authority to appoint the administrator of the Bureau.
Republican Lieutenant Governor Robert Taft succeeded Mr. Voinovich as governor from 1998 to 2006. During Taft’s reign, the Bureau commenced more aggressive investing of the fund, leading to Tom Noe’s recommendation that the Bureau invest its asserts in rare coins. We all recall “coingate” as one of the most embarrassing scandals in Ohio’s political history, which lead to a substantial change in Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation investment policy.
What is interesting about Ms. Taylor’s assertion is that it is based upon a 2007 study. The rates reflected in this study came after 16 years of Republican control of the governor’s mansion. What is further interesting is that more recently, after fours years of current Democratic governor Ted Strickland’s control, the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation system has been lauded by business groups as “new and improved, and “no longer the silent killer of jobs.” Moreover, presently, Ohio has the lowest base premium rates in the last 20 years and is roughly in the middle of the pack when compared to all other states.
If we are to believe business groups, and if the more recent surveys are accurate, there exists little evidence that the current Ohio workers’ compensation system is truly “a great deterrent for business.” Why would the Kasich campaign make such an assertion?
Mr. Kasich has recently come out in favor of privatization of state economic development efforts. It would not be a great leap to hear Mr. Kasich recommend the privatization of workers’ compensation. In 1981, pro-business groups attempted to push through a state constitutional amendment calling for the privatization of workers’ compensation. This proposal was soundly rejected by Ohio voters. Given the above analysis, any attempt by a Kasich administration to privatize workers’ compensation should be soundly rejected again.