And The Beat Goes On

January 8th, 2004 by

The workers’ compensation goings on in California are proving that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger can flex his muscles in the legislature just as well as on the big screen.
He wants “real reform” on his desk by March 1 — or else.
“Modest reform is not enough,” the Republican governor said during his State of the State Address earlier this week. “If all I get is modest reform, I am prepared to take my workers’ comp solution to the people. It will be on the November ballot.”
California, the state which, if it were a country, would have the fifth leading gross national product in the world, also has workers’ comp costs that, at $29 billion, are more than twice as high as anywhere else in the country. The Governor has proposed a plan that, he says, will reduce costs by $11 billion. Understandably, the plan is as full of controversy as the Governor, himself.
Now, with his “I will take it to the people” stance, he has upped the ante considerably.
While Gov. Schwarzenegger’s plan seems, from our vantage point, to have a number of elements employers will find reasonable, it fails to address one of the major problems in the current system. That is, as Stanley Zax, president of Zenith National Insurance Co. in Woodland Hills said, the plan fails to address a provision in the state’s Labor Code that requires disputes to be “liberally construed” in favor of the worker.
We’ve seen a lot of states go through workers’ compensation crises over the last 20 years. They’ve all attacked the problem in one way or another, but in every case, the ones who’ve emerged with significantly better systems have done so by building coalitions among the vested interests who have been persuaded to compromise for the good of all.
What seems to be going on here is this: After a steady, inexorable slide into a kind of workers’ compensation black hole, California now has a kind of Governor who thinks he can yank the system back to where it belongs by the sheer force of his personality.
Maybe he can. Maybe he’s just bigger than life enough to do it, but we wouldn’t bet on it.

Tags: , ,