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Eye On Olympia

Economy + safety = “rate holiday” for workers and companies next year…

Gov. Chris Gregoire and legislative leaders are proposing a six-month “rate holiday” in workers’ compensation premiums for the second half of 2007, a move that would save companies and workers an estimated $315 million.

(Note: Gregoire’s announcement yesterday was actually a rehash of a very similar announcement she and the Department of Labor & Industries made nearly five weeks ago.)

The change would come on top of an estimated $89 million in savings next year due to already-approved lower premiums for unemployment and workers’ compensation rates. Total savings: $404 million.

“That’s money we hope will be reinvested in business and reinvested in the economy,” Gregoire said at a morning press conference at the state Capitol. Hearings on the plan will be held this month, including one in Spokane at 10 a.m. Dec. 14 in the Ridpath Hotel. The Legislature is expected to vote on the proposal in the next session.

Under the plan, a builder with about 25 full-time workers would save roughly $22,000. A farmer with the same number of workers would save about $5,300. Many workers would also see slightly higher paychecks.

It wouldn’t be a permanent rate cut, however. Gregoire said the rates will be re-examined next year to see whether they should be restored at the end of 2007.

“Going into it, everyone needs to understand that it’s just that: a holiday,” she said.

The workers’ compensation system covers medical care and income for workers hurt or killed on the job.

Since industries pay risk-based fees, the biggest savings next year would be in the riskiest jobs. Loggers, crop dusters, temporary hazardous waste cleaners, sports team members and dancers would typically see savings ranging from $1,400 to $2,400 each next year. Movers would save about $400 each, as would livestock handlers. Tow-truck drivers would save nearly $500.

The bad news: For the state’s roughly 600,000 low-risk professional and retail workers – sales clerks, doctors, bookkeepers, lawyers – the savings would amount to about the cost of two lattes a month. Two small lattes, that is.

Read the rest of the story here.


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Richard Roesler covers Washington state news from The Spokesman-Review's bureau in Olympia.

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