Governor Keating can deliver the equivalent of a $120 million tax cut to businesses across the state and help the families of thousands of injured workers if he signs HB 1771 into law. That legislation would pump much-needed money into the Special Indemnity Fund and return a $120 million premium rebate to State Insurance Fund customers.
"This is bigger than any tax cut we've ever passed on behalf of business. It'll be folded back into our economy in new investments and new jobs. I really believe it's going to be a huge economic boost for our state," said Senator Brad Henry of Shawnee, Senate author of HB 1771.
"We're not just helping businesses; we're helping thousands of injured workers and their families who are waiting for the court awards they've been promised from the Special Indemnity Fund. We have an opportunity to strike a blow for economic development and keep the promises we made to those working families. I'd hate to see us lose that chance to a veto," said Representative Mike Ervin of Wewoka, House author of HB 1771.
Under the provisions of HB 1771, the State Insurance Fund will rebate surplus dollars to its customers in the form of an "extraordinary dividend," totaling approximately $120 million. The fund writes workers compensation insurance policies for approximately one-third of Oklahoma businesses.
Because the State of Oklahoma is one of the insurance fund¹s largest customers, it will receive a rebate of approximately $30 million. That funding, in turn, will be deposited into the Special Indemnity Fund to pay off a backlog of court awards for injury claims for approximately 6,000 injured workers.
"This is a win-win deal for the state of Oklahoma. It's going to be a great economic development tool because it pumps money into our economy, reforms the workers compensation system and compensates injured workers for the money they're owed," said Senator Henry.
Even though the legislation passed with bipartisan support, Governor Keating has threatened to veto it. Last week, the Governor indicated that he would support legislation that transferred insurance fund money to the indemnity fund and addressed permanent partial disability awards. HB 1771 does both, but Governor Keating contends it doesn't go far enough on the disability issue.
Both Ervin and Henry disagree.
"I think we've taken an important step forward on permanent partial disability. A veto would just be a step backward and a very damaging one at that. It would make our comp system less efficient and increase the pressure on our already bankrupt indemnity fund," said Rep. Ervin.
"Vetoing this bill would be like vetoing a $120 million tax cut for Oklahoma businesses. It would send the signal that we're not interested in helping business or reforming workers comp," said Senator Henry.
The lawmakers noted that HB 1771 passed the Legislature with bipartisan support, receiving votes from both Republicans and Democrats.
"This isn't about Republicans or Democrats. It's about helping businesses and workers. I think it's something the Governor can and should support," noted Rep. Ervin.