Senator Jim Keane of Butte finally rolled out his $50 million money grab from the Montana State Fund. The bills was discussed in a previous blog. UPDATE: The bill is scheduled for hearing before the Business, Labor and Economic Affairs Committee on Friday, February 13th at 8 a.m. in Room 422.
SB 254 constitutes another attempt by a disingenuous legislature to "appropriate" State Fund dollars for their own purposes. Past legislatures cut deals to take money from the Montana State Fund in exchange for accepting liability for the "old fund" liabilities. Having grown tired of footing the bill for the "old fund" and walking by the Montana State Fund building seems to be too much for some legislators. Despite the fact that the building is a long-term asset for the Board of Investments, some legislators view it as excessive. Apparently, working for the state means one must toil in overcrowded inefficient space.
Stealing a page from Don Draper, Keane has also apparently decided that he didn't like the last conversation on the topic so he decided to change the definitions. SB 254 includes language defining equity and surplus making the terms interchangeably defined as assets minus liabilities. It's a clear effort to avoid the type of testimony that sunk his last attempt -- conversations about actuarial soundness and stability that are fundamental to a healthy insurance company.
The persistence speaks to Keane's inability to grasp the need for a healthy Montana State Fund. MSF certainly merits scrutiny and at times, can't seem to get out of its own way due to some lack of self-awareness. Despite that, a healthy Montana State Fund is good for BOTH Montana employers and Montana's injured workers. MSF's handling of claims is far more reasonable and responsibly grounded in the Montana Workers' Compensation Act and its policies than private insurers. Skimming off the top of the MSF coffers every session is inappropriate and foolish at the same time. After decades of miserable workers' compensation performance, Montana is finally reaching a point where the WCA can be examined in a vacuum that doesn't involve the sky falling and require drastic measures.
Taking money in this fashion is the work comp equivalent of Boardwalk Empire. At least Nucky Thompson sought to promote the economy while skimming. Proponents of SB 254 may be determined to strike a blow against MSF but they are doing no favors to workers in the process. MSF stability contributes to an improving state economy -- raiding the coffers creates a formula for instability that will inevitably trickle down in a negative fashion to the injured workers of Montana and MSF policyholders.