Originally created 02/28/04

Groups oppose injury fund cuts



COLUMBIA - The state's top business group is telling the House it should back off a budget committee's proposal to raid a fund intended to help injured workers get back on the job.

The state Chamber of Commerce and other business groups are opposed to a House Ways and Means Committee proposal that shuts down the Second Injury Fund and takes $40 million from the fund to balance the state's budget.

The Second Injury Fund reimburses insurance companies that have to pay out worker's compensation claims for an employee who had a previous work-related injury.

The fund collects money each year from insurance companies to help pay for its operations, and companies are spared increased premiums when they rehire injured workers.

Though state chamber members are divided on whether the Second Injury Fund should be scrapped, they agree the state shouldn't take money from the fund, said Hunter Howard, the chamber's chief executive officer.

"We feel like that's money that is set aside for employees that are hurt, and no one knows what those liabilities are until they're resolved," he said.

It is "essentially taking their money."

State budget writers have routinely raided trust accounts to balance budgets during the past three years as the economy stalled.

But this is different because it's not the state's money, Mr. Howard said.

These "are trust funds that don't really have any connection to the state. ... These are moneys that have been put in by businesses for their employees' protection," he said.

"I'm actually very surprised that they haven't called me to talk with me about this," said Ways and Means Chairman Bobby Harrell, R-Charleston.

"I almost feel ambushed by them."