When the budget reform debate initially started, the state’s main concern was the pension system, but now all matters money has a place in Gov. Rauner’s “turn around” agenda – including worker compensation. Although Gov. Rauner claims on an overhaul of the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act is necessary, vocal opponents have questioned the logic of the governor’s argument.
In a Chicago Tonight interview, John Cooney, president of the Illinois Trial Lawyer’s Association, states:
“If the issue for this state is unfunded pensions, what does any of this have to do with solving that? It will not bring a single dollar to the treasury of the state of Illinois. It’s an intellectual bait and switches to give goodies to business and say it will somehow result in Illinois being more solvent someday… The fake argument is that business will flock from other places and someday good things will happen to Illinois workers and Illinois as a state.”
On June 4, the Sun-Times reported that House Democrats passed their own reformed version of the Illinois Workers Compensation Act voting 63-39; the vote was mainly divided along party lines with Republicans voting against and describing the bill “as a step backward” (Sun-Times).
The result of this political budget battle is the rise of hyperbolic rhetoric in the form of television attack ads against House Speaker Michael Madigan. The Chicago Tribune even went so far as compare the speaker to the fictional Eddie Haskell and writing:
“During several recent interviews, House Speaker Michael Madigan has worn his angel wings and halo. In soft, lulling tones, he has emphasized that the state needs moderate, reasonable leadership. Like his.
Who knew Madigan could play such a spot-on Eddie Haskell from "Leave It to Beaver?”’
While the political jibes increase in quantity, the quality of the Illinois budget still has not changed, and the future of the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act sits in limbo.
Gov. Rauner’s proposed changes to compensation legislation include:
- Requiring proof that the cause of a work accident is more than 50% the responsibility of the employer
- Requiring that traveling workers prove their injury took place during work-related travel—travel an employee would be reimbursed for
- Reducing the fee schedule of medical payments by 30% for all services except evaluation and management, and physical medicine
- Increasing the state’s minimum wage only if reforms to workers compensation are also passed.
It is important to note that Democrats and Republicans have both put forth ideas for workers compensation, but with neither side agreeing on what the most important issues are, Illinois workers are left in the middle of a debate between the Governor’s Office and the Illinois House—without anyone knowing what changes, if any, will actually take place.