Calif. Governor Wants Workers’ Comp Fix in a Week

By | March 22, 2004

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger warned state legislators that unless they reach a deal next week to repair California’s costly workers’ compensation system, he’ll bypass them and go to voters to fix the problem.

“If we don’t come to an agreement this coming week, then it’s over and then we will go to the ballot,” the Republican governor said Friday at a manufacturing plant where he later collected signatures to place an initiative before voters in November.

“We all know what the issues are,” Schwarzenegger told reporters later. “I will tell the people that special interests — like I said during my campaign — are running Sacramento and we have to break through that.”

Schwarzenegger said he was hopeful for a deal in Sacramento, where his office has been negotiating with lawmakers. But at the same time, his visit to Ace Clearwater Enterprises had all the hallmarks of a political rally that echoed his recent campaign to enact twin ballot proposals to rescue the state budget.

His appearance was orchestrated jointly by his office and the political committee collecting signatures across the state for the ballot initiative — a group he has backed with $1 million in campaign cash. Schwarzenegger was wearing a team jacket carrying the same logo as T-shirts worn by volunteers gathering signatures from plant executives and workers, “Join Arnold, Fix Workers’ Comp, Terminate Fraud.”

The group already has blanketed the state with 2 million pieces of mail to build up support for the initiative and gather signatures, which includes a letter from Schwarzenegger and an appeal for donations.

As he stood on a small stage behind the plant with company executives and the Legislature’s two top Republicans — Senate Minority Leader Jim Brulte, R-Rancho Cucamonga, and Assembly Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield — his message appeared telegraphed to Sacramento Democrats.

On Thursday, the Assembly’s senior Democrat, Speaker Fabian Nunez, accused Republicans of trying to block an agreement on workers’ compensation to get an issue they can use in the November elections.

Nunez said Friday an agreement was close, but said Schwarzenegger was sending “an odd message when on one hand you are negotiating an agreement … but at the same time you are saying you want to collect the (ballot) signatures.”

Businesses have long complained that workers’ compensation costs are jeopardizing jobs and pushing companies out of state.

The governor signed a petition in front of a battery of TV cameras, then urged residents, “When you see those signature gathers at the shopping malls, at the shopping centers, anywhere, go up to them and sign up your name and send a clear signal to our legislators.”

And he boasted that if the measure goes to voters, “I know we will win.”

The Republican governor threatened in his State of the State speech in January to push an initiative campaign if lawmakers didn’t approve legislation by March 1 that would provide significant savings for employers.

That deadline passed without a deal, but the two sides have continued to talk as a group financed mainly by several agriculture-related companies has begun collecting signatures for the initiative.

Republicans contend the initiative and nearly identical legislation backed by Schwarzenegger would generate commonsense changes, but Democrats argue the two measures would harm injured workers without guaranteeing employer savings.

Copyright 2004 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Topics California Legislation Workers' Compensation

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