If you’re wondering why it’s suddenly gotten colder in Ohio, it’s not the approach of winter. Hell has frozen over. Yesterday, Governor John Kasich admitted that he has largely abandoned an unpopular plan, specifically, his plan to privatize (in part or full, we never really could tell) the Bureau of Workers Compensation. Back in April, Kamp Kasich was proudly boasting that the legislature would take up workers compensation privatization sometime this fall. It was part of a media relations strategy to show that Kasich’s agenda was moving forward undeterred by talk of a referendum on SB 5 and was called a “necessary” step by Lt. Governor Mary Taylor to make Ohio attractive to job creators again.
One week after the defeat of Issue 2 caused SB 5’s repeal and now suddenly Kasich himself is downplaying workers compensation reform saying it will only happen if labor and the business community come together and work out a proposal. Labor doesn’t want to see the BWC privatized, and frankly, neither do some in the business community. After all, the Ohio Chamber of Commerce uses its discounted group-rated workers compensation plan as a member benefit, and it has a direct financial interest in maintaining the economic advantage that benefit provides as a means to grow its membership. So the plan has been essentially shelved.
Privatization of workers compensation was something Kasich did openly talk about while running for Governor last year, as he attacked Ohio as being one of the few States in the nation that hadn’t privatized its workers compensation system.
In 1981, business groups attempted to force the privatization of workers compensation at the ballot box, but it was soundly defeated and was even opposed by Republican Gov. Jim Rhodes at the time. In the 1990s, Ohio voters repealed Republican legislation that drastically reduced the benefits of injured workers in a measure that was designed, in part, to continue the slow and subtle march to privatizing the BWC. And, of course, in the early 2000s, Coingate and other workers compensation scandals were a direct result of efforts by the Republican legislature to privatize at least the handling of the BWC’s investment portfolio.
Already we’re seeing the ripples of the defeat of Issue 2 in the Kasich Administration. Although Kasich adamantly denied to the media that the defeat of Issue 2 had anything to do with the downgrading of his plans to try to privatize as much of the BWC as he constitutionally could, nobody is buying it.