Two weeks ago Tom Schaffer’s comments in this space recalled the 1993 campaign for “workers’ compensation reform”, pointing out that then governor George Voinovich had called the workers’ compensation system the “silent killer of jobs.” As Tom’s comment’s pointed out, this refrain is now being echoed by the campaign of gubernatorial candidate John Kasich, whose running mate has declared our workers’ compensation system a great deterrent to business.
History repeats itself, so it should not be surprising that this old, familiar refrain is once again being heard. To put this in perspective, a forgotten bit of history is worth recalling. In 1993, while a governor advancing a political agenda argued that something had to be done to keep businesses from leaving Ohio, the state was in fact leading the country in construction and expansion of industrial plants. In 1994, a national business publication reported that Ohio had been first in the country category for two years in a row. While the governor was advancing a political agenda with scary tales of Ohio’s shrinking economy, the facts told a very different story.
What does this have to do with 2010? Everything. Once again, politicians seeking to win a campaign and advance an agenda are arguing that the system which protects inured workers when they are most in need is causing companies to leave the state, and preventing others from starting operations in Ohio. As previously pointed out, though, the Bureau of Worker’s Compensation has recently reported that employer premiums are now at their lowest level in twenty years. According to the Bureau of Workers’ compensation, since 2007, base premium rates for most Ohio employers have dropped by 35%. Even more interesting, the Bureau reports that it has been able to bring about premium reductions for more than 4 out of 5 Ohio employers not by reducing benefits to injured workers, but by correcting flaws in the system used to determine employer premiums.
If there is any one thing that Ohioans can all agree on, it is that we need more and better jobs. It is simplistic, and misleading, however, to suggest that our the key to creating jobs is weakening legal protections available to the injured and disabled at their time of greatest vulnerability. Business publications make it clear that numerous factors go into determining where a company business. Among these are the availability of a skilled work force, access to transportation, and such things as the cost of utilities. Many articles also suggest that the quality of public education is a major factor for businesses in choosing a location.
It requires neither wisdom nor political courage to say “We need jobs.” Of course we do, and no one disagrees. But, if legal “reform” favoring business interests at the expense of consumers and workers is really the way to jump start a sluggish economy, why are we having this discussion after all of the so-called “business-friendly” legislation such as the workers’ compensation and tort reform bills of the last seventeen years?