Atwater Warns of Worker's Comp Risks



Jeff Atwater, Florida’s chief financial officer, spoke at a recent luncheon sponsored by the Lakewood Ranch Business Alliance, Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce and Manatee Chamber of Commerce. Atwater spoke to the crowd about the difference in fiscal constraint between the state and federal government, but also spoke with SRQ about a financial challenge facing businesses in the state. 

You have warned that a 14.5-percent hike in worker’s compensation rates could hit businesses. How should the Florida Legislature respond to this problem in its coming session? The insurance commissioner approved the rate, so that 14.5 is now coming. And these business owners somehow need to load that cost to be sure everyone is covered with the appropriate insurance. So that cost is going to built in to my carpentry bill or to my furniture bill—whatever it is I’m buying—I now know there is a cost that is going to be built in for that increase. So a small business owner has to figure that out. Will everybody act fairly? Will some people start to do what they did a few years ago when it was so high they didn’t calculate it into their bill? People were starting to go without insurance, and that was very risky for the workplace. That’s a big issue for us. But the legislature is going to have to take a look at it and see. Can they find a way that these costs don’t continue to escalate? This 14.5 percent was just based on current information. It’s very likely that because the law was changed this may become more expensive every year going forward. That’s the big worry. I don’t know what the solution is that the Legislature might choose to come up with. They want to be sure the worker has quality insurance, but if it becomes more and more expensive, they are afraid that small business owners or other business owners will just not fully insure and they will be disguising it. That puts workers at risk. 

What should the next governor do to ensure this remains a good business environment for businesses and consumers? Fiscal discipline is really important, because consumers and businesses can see where something becomes too expensive, they will shy away and not take their resources someplace else. If we can be disciplined, we’ll continue to attract a stronger and stronger economy. If we lose that discipline, like other states have lost it, we are going to lose people. They are going to move to states where they feel a chance for success. We’ve got to find a balancing act.

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