Washington state agency posts $1.6 billion budget surplus; still wants more

By Clarissa Kell-Holland, Land Line staff writer | Friday, November 07, 2008

Already cash-strapped truckers in Washington state have been dealt another blow recently after the state’s Department of Labor and Industries announced plans to increase workers’ compensation rates for businesses in 2009.

The L&I is proposing a 3 percent increase across-the-board for all businesses in the state, but the rates will be higher depending on a specific industry’s risk factor. Trucking industry rates would go up 8 percent.

This announcement comes as the L&I sits on at least a $1.6 billion budget surplus, according to Elaine Fischer, agency spokeswoman. Fischer told Land Line Magazine in late October the increase was needed to offset L&I’s recent losses, which were sustained because of fluctuating stock market conditions.

“I know it’s a difficult time for the trucking industry … It’s a tough job and a difficult business,” she said.

OOIDA members Sherrie and Bob Bond of Chehalis, WA, said any increase right now could prove fatal for small log-hauling companies like theirs, which is already teetering on the brink of closure.

“I just don’t understand why they are considering this increase as they sit on a surplus of billions of dollars, which has been accumulated on the backs of the working people in Washington,” Bond told Land Line Magazine recently. “I just don’t think they are considering the impact this will have on small businesses that will have to let people go because they can’t afford to employ them any longer.”

The Bonds have owned a log-hauling company for more than 40 years. They attended one of the L&I public hearings in late October to discuss how the rate increase could put their already struggling business under.

“We are here today to put your agency and others on notice that we are going to hold you and others like you accountable for your requests and proposals,” said Sherrie Bond, who spoke to L&I officials at the hearing. “It used to be with great pride that people went into business for themselves and provided employment opportunities for others. Nowadays, many self-employed individuals are barely scraping by and some not at all.”

The Bonds have already met with two of their state representatives, including Rep. Gary Alexander, R-20th Dist., and Rep. Dean Takko, D-19th Dist., regarding L&I’s proposed rate hike.

Takko told Land Line on Friday, Nov. 7, he’s already put some calls in to the governor’s office to discuss what can be done to avoid further taxing the already struggling logging, timber and trucking industries in his state. Takko said he met with one logger who would have to pay a 14 percent increase in his workers’ compensation rates under the new formula proposed by the L&I.

“I am concerned with the fact that the logging, timber and trucking industries in my district are getting hit on a lot of different fronts. This rate increase is fairly substantial, and it’s going to impact businesses here,” Takko said. “I like to use someone else’s analysis that the logging and trucking industry is kind of like a death by a thousand cuts: It’s an ordinance here, a fee here and an environmental issue here. When you start adding all of these increases in there, they add up to substantial numbers.”

The 2009 final rates are expected to be adopted in late November, so the Bonds are still busy calling their state representatives to explain why the L&I’s proposed rate increases are not a good idea for Washington state businesses.

Since the L&I agency falls under the governor’s office, Takko said he plans to suggest what can be done either through the administrative process or through the legislative process to help businesses there.

“When you have a significant surplus such as this, and it’s just sitting in an account, it makes you wonder if there isn’t something we can do to help an industry that’s definitely struggling right now,” Takko said.

Sherrie Bond is urging truckers and businesses in Washington state to call Gov. Chris Gregoire’s office at 360-902-4111 to express opposition to the L&I’s proposed rate increase. Click here to e-mail a letter to her office.

“We need to send a clear message that there is no more money to siphon off of small businesses. … We are dried up,” Bond said.

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