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Finding a good solution for workers' comp is vital

May 30, 2003|BY BOB MAGINNIS

If it isn't broken, don't fix it.

So goes an old political proverb. But even though nobody's saying that West Virginia's workers' compensation system isn't broken, the state's political powers can't agree on how to fix it. They'll get another chance in June, when Gov. Bob Wise convenes a special session for that purpose.

How bad is the problem? In 2002, the Associated Press reported that the system's budget deficit rose from $572 million to $2.4 billion. That's quite a jump for one year and without a fix, that money pit will just get a lot deeper.

Even though businesses will experience premium increases of as much as 15 percent July 1, analysts quoted by the Associated Press say that the system will be bankrupt by 2006, with $4 billion in unsecured claims.

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Gov. Bob Wise, who is traveling around the state trying to build support for a solution, didn't do his cause much good prior to the last session, when he and the House leadership group both introduced bills on the same subject because the governor hadn't shared his legislative plans with lawmakers.

So how will they fix this? Not, we hope, as the House proposed last year, by cutting aid to higher education. Proposals on the table, according to the governor, include taking $150 million from the system's black lung fund and increasing cigarette taxes again.

A new court would hear appeals on compensation claims and appoint a fraud czar with subpoena power to investigate suspicious claims.

Resolution of this matter is important to all citizens whether or not they've every been injured on the job. Businesses looking for new sites or existing firms looking to expand won't look with favor on a state which can't support injured workers no matter how much employers pay.

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