The Business Council opposes this legislation, which proposes the unprecedented step of indexing increases in future state appropriations for the state's occupational health clinics, so that they grow automatically with increases in the state's average weekly wage.
As these expenses are paid exclusively by assessments on employer's workers' compensation costs, this bill would lock in automatic increases in state assessments on employers for this purpose as well.
We have a number of concerns regarding this legislation, but mostly we question its timing.
Last year, the legislature, with support from the business community, committed the state to a significant increase in funding for the state's nine regional occupational health clinics network (see S.8708/Chapter 139, Laws of 2008). The Executive Budget proposes to increase the availability of funding from $5.5 million last year to $9.5 million this year.
Given this proposed 70 percent increase, given the state's overall fiscal condition, and given the weak economy and the impact it is having on private sector employers, we strongly question the appropriateness of guaranteed future increases in any funding program or any business assessment.
We also question the need for any additional funding increases, let alone guaranteed funding increases. Business has questions about the activities of these regional clinics, and have raised concerns whether they are meeting their initial goals of addressing needs of both employees and employers.
In response, last year's legislation also directed the state to name a statewide clinic advisory panel involving business and labor interests, and expanded its oversight authority. A similar panel was authorized in the initial clinic legislation in 1989, but never appointed. We believe an active, multi-interest advisory panel is important to assure that the clinic network functions as intended by statute. We believe that future funding needs, and use of any increased clinic networks, should be influenced by the advisory committee. Since the new panel has yet to be put in place, we believe it is premature to plan for additional increases in clinic funding.
For these reasons, The Business Council does not support granting automatic annual increases in clinic funding, therefore we respectfully oppose approval of A.469.