Building a Better Cash Cow
I-1082: The Sneaky Right-Wing Initiative Everyone's Ignoring
It's easy to figure out who's behind Initiative 1082. Dial the number on the initiative's filing documents and a friendly voice answers: "Hello, BIAW, how may I help you?" Or look up who's donated the most money to get the initiative on the ballot this fall, and you'll find the same thing: It's the conservative Building Industry Association of Washington (BIAW), in for $500,000 so far.
What, exactly, would I-1082 do? That's the more complicated answer.
Put in the most simple terms, this initiative would privatize Washington State's publicly run workers' compensation program.
For years, the BIAW made a ton of money from Washington's current workers' comp arrangement. Taking full advantage of an opening provided by the legislature, it was able to get the state to kick millions in unclaimed workers' comp dollars into its coffers every year—money the BIAW has then used to fund conservative causes ranging from campaigns for Dino Rossi and Rob McKenna to trying to stack the state supreme court with conservative justices to fighting against environmental legislation. However, due to tighter audits on payouts, this way of doing business has recently become much less lucrative for the BIAW.
Enter I-1082, the BIAW's new and improved way to get Washington State workers to fund its conservative agenda. If passed, it would end the state's monopoly on workers' compensation insurance—right now, all workers pay into one pot, and all workers stand to benefit from it if they get injured on the job—and instead allow private insurance companies like, say, Liberty Mutual (which has donated $300,000 to the initiative effort) to provide workers' comp insurance. Its backers are scheduled to turn in enough signatures to make the fall ballot on July 30.
The BIAW says the current system is broken and an archaic outlier in a country where most states don't have a public monopoly on workers' comp. The No on I-1082 people—who have only raised about $536,000 so far, about half of what the Yes campaign has—pull out studies and more to prove that Washington's system is just fine, thank you. They also have a raft of reasons to be wary of I-1082's fine print.
For example: It would let private insurers set rates outside the regulatory reach of the state (Washington insurance commissioner Mike Kreidler opposes it for this reason), and in the short run would raise the amount small businesses and their workers have to pay for insurance. Most of all, it would conveniently allow groups like the BIAW to pool a bunch of Washington businesses into one giant association and then collect a nice fee (which can eventually go into its political coffers) for getting that association's membership connected with a large private insurer like Liberty Mutual. "And we probably will," said spokesperson Amy Brackenbury. "We've been pretty clear about that."
"How much does BIAW stand to gain?" asked Alex Fryer, the No on I-1082 spokesperson. "No one can say exactly, but potentially millions of dollars."