Governor Keating axed the equivalent of a $120 million tax cut for business and denied thousands of injured workers their court-awarded settlements when he vetoed HB 1771 late Wednesday, according to the author of that legislation, Senator Brad Henry.
The Shawnee legislator called the veto "the most irresponsible" of Keating's administration.
"Basically, the Governor killed a $120 million tax cut. He took money out of the back pocket of business with one hand and slapped injured workers with the other," said Senator Henry.
"He had a chance to pump millions of dollars into our economy and pay off a state debt in the process, but instead he decided to bow to the pressure of a few special interests who were upset because they didn't get their way with this legislation."
In his veto message, the Governor claimed the legislation would "threaten the stability" of the State Insurance Fund and cause increases in workers compensation rates. Henry disagreed.
"That claim is completely unfounded. Governor Keating is just trying to throw up a smokescreen to hide the fact that he killed a bill which would have done great things for Oklahoma. This legislation would not have raised workers comp rates and he knows it," said Senator Henry.
Under the provisions of HB 1771, the State Insurance Fund will rebate surplus dollars to its customers in the form of an "extraordinary dividend," totaling approximately $120 million. The fund writes workers compensation insurance policies for approximately one-third of Oklahoma businesses.
Because the State of Oklahoma is one of the insurance fund's largest customers, it will receive a rebate of approximately $30 million. That funding, in turn, will be deposited into the Special Indemnity Fund to pay off a backlog of court awards for injury claims for approximately 6,000 injured workers.
"The veto sends the message that Oklahoma isn't interested in helping business or keeping the promises it makes to its people. That's a very damaging signal to send to when you're competing with other states for new jobs and new industries," noted Senator Henry.
The legislation was approved by the House and Senate last week with bipartisan support.
"When a bill of this nature receives the kind of widespread, bipartisan support this one did, it's clear that you've done a pretty good job of striking a compromise. I think it would have been very easy for Governor Keating to support this legislation had he really been interested in helping the businesses or the workers involved," said Senator Henry.
"Just two weeks ago, the Governor indicated that he would support legislation that transferred insurance fund money to the indemnity fund. After HB 1771 passed with bipartisan support, Governor Keating hedged his bets, saying he wanted more action on the permanent partial disability issue.
"I really think the Governor is guilty of playing politics with this issue and in the process, playing with the lives of the injured workers and their families. We made a good faith effort to address the Governor's concerns, but he vetoed the legislation anyway," said Senator Henry.