“The people have spoken.”
That’s the mantra we've heard repeatedly since the passage of Tim Eyman's Initiative 1053. Because it requires a super-majority vote for the state legislature to raise taxes, we’re told we must accept an all-cuts budget—even though Gov. Chris Gregoire herself deemed that approach “immoral.” The people—with respect to taxes‚ at least—are presumed to be as rigid and totemic as Easter Island statues. The people have spoken, and will not be allowed to speak again.
If Tim Eyman didn’t exist, some legislators would need to invent him as a means of avoiding moral decisions. Even concessions that cuts are immoral have faded as political self-congratulation conjures up blooms amidst the all-cuts thorns.
Yet that same learned helplessness has not applied to another issue addressed at the ballot last November: workers’ compensation.
Despite the fact that 60 percent of voters rejected Initiative 1082—a proposal to allow private workers’ compensation insurance—century-old worker protections are under assault.
While the votes were still being counted toward their defeat in every county, I-1082’s proponents began working on “reforms” more objectively harmful than I-1082. The initiative, after all, did not expressly reduce benefits. Worker harms could only be inferred from the practices of private workers’ compensation insurers in other states, along with I-1082’s calculated failure to include such insurance within existing consumer protection laws.
[pullquote]If Tim Eyman didn’t exist, some legislators would need to invent him as a means of avoiding moral decisions. Even concessions that cuts are immoral have faded as political self-congratulation conjures up blooms amidst the all-cuts thorns.[/pullquote]
In contrast, we know the “compromise-and-release” workers’ compensation scheme now promoted by the I-1082 crowd would reduce benefits for injured workers—by more than $1 billion—based upon the assumption that injured workers, under the economic duress so many of us are feeling, will “sell” disability claims for cash settlements.
It’s a sad sign of the times that some define success by the scale of retreat from previous accomplishments.
By substituting for a tort system, workers compensation is designed to be what it’s called: industrial insurance. “Insurance” is designed to make people whole for injuries —no better, no worse. That aim is subverted if workers, short of being well, cash out injury claims. Where, then, is the incentive to return to productivity? What happens when the cash runs out and yet health care needs remain?
This session legislators enacted a reform—supported by business and labor alike—that would save the workers’ compensation system $218 million over four years by returning injured workers to work more quickly. They’re pursuing other commonsense ideas.
Yet this significant work is being entirely ignored.
In effect, a “spoilsport” workers’ compensation smokescreen has obscured the extraordinary human suffering being inflicted by budget decisions. Instead of an exclusive focus on kids’ educations being shortchanged and our most vulnerable receiving deadly care cuts, we see a rehashing of voter-rejected arguments.
Business interests have trotted out a public pension-drawing former state agency director to tout this latest purported salvation of our workers’ compensation system while the irony of the fact that he touted I-1082 as the previously offered salvation goes unmentioned.
I fully expect that during the coming special session we will hear more about how an economic crisis created by Wall Street should be used to further roll over the hapless workers who have already been punished so severely, by Democrats and Republicans alike, for the sins of the unpunished. Game plan: (A) Create a crisis; (B) blame the working class; and (C) watch your stocks soar.
This debate is part of a continuum where people are only listened to if they say something conservative. Despite the reverence for I-1053, initiatives that won by far greater margins are again being suspended—including those reducing class sizes and requiring long-term care quality. The 60 percent rejection of I-1082 should have been an exclamation point—instead it’s treated as an ellipsis by those whose hearing is convenient.