Ohio2006 Blog

News, analysis, and comments on Ohio elections.

Thursday, September 14

Gov: Strickland (D) Proposes Independent BWC Board; Blackwell (R) Wants More Privatization

The ineffectual BWC Oversight Commission established by Gov. Voinvovich (R) in 1995 has been heavily criticized for failing to detect or prevent the massive investment scandals, fraud, and waste that have occurred at the BWC since the Republican party assumed control of state government. Yesterday gubernatorial candidate Rep. Ted Strickland (D-Lisbon) pledged to restore accountability and public confidence in the BWC by abolishing the Oversight Commission and replacing it with a 13-member independent board of directors, appointed by the governor and composed of representatives of business, labor, injured workers and the public, as well as actuarial, investment and accounting experts.

Unlike the Oversight Commission, the proposed board would have real responsibility and real accountability. It would hire and fire the BWC administrator and directly oversee the management of the $21 billion system. Current Oversight Commission members would not be eligible to serve on the new board. Only five of the 11 current commissioners have full voting rights and the commission itself has only an "advise and consent" role, eliminating any real power to stop corruption or mismanagement. The new board includes 13 voting members and two non-voting legislative ex-officio members, and is required to maintain three standing committees (Audit, Investment and Actuarial) to monitor critical areas of BWC operations. More details on the proposal are here.

"A new, independent board of directors with real oversight authority will help ensure that BWC dollars are invested wisely, that insurance premiums are kept as low as possible, and that workers receive fair and just compensation for their injuries on the job," Strickland said. "I will look across Ohio to find board members who exemplify what the BWC so desperately needs: integrity, professionalism and fiscal expertise. Ohio's businesses and their workers deserve nothing less."

Today the Columbus Dispatch reports on Strickland's reform proposal and the response by his opponent, Secretary of State Ken Blackwell (R-Cincinnati). Strickland stressed that "the members would be held accountable for bureau performance," and said "I think it’s a fairly complete proposal that will go a very long way toward restoring confidence in the bureau." The reporter notes that the legislature has responded to the BWC scandals by (among other minor changes) adding two financial experts to what had been a nine-member commission. However, Strickland said "a different direction is needed to provide more checks and balances."

Blackwell, on the other hand, wants to privatize the whole agency. Ignoring reports last week that privatization of care administration has resulted in waste and abuse on an enormous scale (as much as $1.6 billion in excessive cost over the last decade or so), Blackwell called for outsourcing the entire system. As to Strickland's reform plan, Blackwell spokesman Carlo LoParo called it "similar to what was in place before former Gov. George V. Voinovich took control of the agency in 1995" and "a giant, irresponsible step backward." Strickland disagreed and said the current system has been "hugely politicized" and "used as a piggy bank for wellconnected people." He also said there isn't much support for Blackwell’s privatization plan.

It is frankly astonishing that Blackwell calls for yet more privatization given the history of waste and corruption that ensued from the already privatized part of the system. Even if Strickland's proposed board has some resemblance to the state of affairs before Voinovich created his impotent Oversight Commission, that would still represent an enormous improvement to the present catastrophe of waste and corruption. When you've gone wildly off track, what sense does it make to denounce getting back on track as an "irresponsbile step backward"?

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