Thursday, October 21, 2004

Measure 38
The last and final measure. Measure 38 has been involved with some controversy, namely some shady dealings involving former Gov. Neil Goldschmidt.

Reading the text of this bill, it seems to do two things. One is to gradually, over a two year period, phase out the State Accident Insurance Fund (SAIF), which insures small businesses in the state. SAIF competes with private insurers covering workman's compensation, which is a business requirement, but for some businesses that have more risk that may not get picked up by private insurers, SAIF is often the only, or less expensive option.

Here are the official sites:
Oregonians for Accountability
Committee for SAIF Keeping

Big yuck-yuck on that second site there. Nice pun.
Anyway, the FOR statements in the voter's pamphlet are mostly from individuals or PACs. I didn't see lots of official organizations in there. The one that stood out was from Liberty Insurance, which to me sounded like a conflict of interest. In fact Liberty is the main backer of the measure.

However the AGAINST crowd had a wealth of diversity, from legislators and the governor, to long lists of businesses that grouped together, and unions.

There are a lot of reasons, personally, why a measure like this would be attractive to me. One is that I don't like the government administration of things the private sector should be doing. The problem with that is that the state requires this type of insurance to be held by businesses, and given the current climate economically we want to encourage small business the most, and SAIF saves small businesses the headache of high cost liability insurance (or no insurance at all, as some private insurers balk at insuring sometimes when the risk is too high). But that leads me to other thoughts that I can't back up right now, such as I wonder what the difference between what SAIF offers and all other private insurers is.
One reason that private insurance for workman's comp costs more is that private insurers are generally for profit, unlike SAIF, which is non-profit. Therefore SAIF can afford lower premiums.
Another reason to like this measure would be accountability. I know opponents say that if you get rid of SAIF you wouldn't have accountability in the system, or that SAIF is accountable, but recent scandals have put a kink in that argument. It's true that SAIF has had ethical investigations and other troubles, but that is not an indictment on whether or not it works and is overall a good or bad thing for the state. It's also true that there are some dissatisfied customers out there, but this is not a monopoly, and the competitive insurance market indicates that there are alternatives.

But there are lots of reasons to like SAIF. Opponents of the measure claim that SAIF is self-sustaining, which is true. Getting rid of it will actually cost the government more money than keeping it. I refer you to the Ballot title of the measure, where the statement of financial impact to the state has this costing the state about 100 million dollars a year. Get that? SAIF is actually in the black by $100 Million. This would make it more self-sustaining than the US Postal Service, which, although theoretically self-sustaining, frequently needs a little help from tax dollars.

The Salem Statesman has a roundup of articles related to SAIF and Measure 38.
Here are two sides of the issue, one for and one against, from the Portland Tribune.
And still another one from the Trib.

The Democratic Party of Oregon opposes it. (In fact they oppose most of the measure this time around and have no position on the others, which has got to be a first.)
The Republican Party of Oregon's site didn't have it readily available what their positions are.

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