Creating jobs. There may be no more universal promise from politicians than the assurance that they have the formula for putting people back to work.
Yet the economy continues to sputter, and across our state and our country, unemployment rates remain stubbornly high. Let’s be honest — no one has a magic wand to create jobs. But there are steps state government can take to develop a positive economic environment.
That’s one of my top legislative priorities and one of the guiding principles of the Senate’s bipartisan governing coalition. I’m sharing one of the ways we can help move our economy forward and make it easier for the job creators of this state to start hiring again.
When I meet with the business leaders in the Mid-Columbia, Washington’s state-run workers’ compensation system is consistently near the top of their list of concerns — and with good cause. Our industrial insurance rates are the highest in the nation and we return fewer injured workers to the job than any state.
A recent study by the Department of Labor and Industries found the workers’ compensation reserve account is severely underfunded. To bring the account to full solvency would require up to $3.1 billion, which equates to annual rate increases of 19 percent sustained over 10 years.
None of this is a secret — legislators have known about the problems with our workers’ compensation system for years and many of us have tried to make improvements. After years of resistance, we finally broke through in 2011 with a dynamic package of reforms.
The centerpiece was a bill to allow workers with certain catastrophic injuries the new option of negotiating structured settlements, rather than having to accept a lifetime pension that didn’t allow them to return to the job.
Structured settlements have been enormously successful. Over the next four years alone, it’s estimated to save the system $1.5 billion. So what’s the catch? Because of opposition to the concept, we only were able to extend the settlement option to workers over the age of 55.
This year I’m supporting a bill that would grant all workers with certain catastrophic injuries the ability to negotiate structured settlements.
It’s a common-sense way to help ensure injured workers have options. It also will improve the solvency of the workers’ compensation system, potentially saving hundreds of millions of dollars each year.
Improving the system is crucial because industrial-insurance rates are tied directly to jobs. Simply put, if rates rise, job creation is stifled and our economic recovery is threatened.
Instead of filling the system’s workers’ compensation deficit by increasing rates on businesses, we must take this opportunity to make it more efficient by expanding structured settlements.
We can’t wave a magic wand and create jobs but we can help put businesses in a position to succeed. That will continue to be my top legislative priority and the focus of the bipartisan coalition in the state Senate.
Working together, we can put our state on a path for prosperity.
State Sen. Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla, has represented the 16th District since 2001. He owned and operated a small business in the region for 23 years before joining the Legislature.