Small businesses at odds with Senate over Pinnacol vote

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Officials at the National Federation of Independent Business are not happy.

Their ire was raised today when the Colorado Senate voted 18-to-15, to support Senate Bills 283 and 271 which allow the state to reallocate Workmen’s Compensation reserves held by Pinnacol Assurance in order to provide $300 million in funding for higher education and another $200 million for the state’s reserve fund.

“The Colorado Senate voted to take money that does not belong to them. In short, it was robbery,” said Tony Gagliardi, Colorado state director for the National Federation of Independent Business, America’s leading small business association.

He cited the move as jeopardizing a system in which workmen’s compensation premiums paid as a mandatory tax by all Colorado employers.

“The system is designed to pay for the healthcare, rehabilitation, and lost wages of workers injured on the job,” he said. ”But workers’ compensation premiums are one of the highest costs of running a business, so when we have a system that is running fairly efficiently, it means premiums need not be raised. It was never, ever, intended to be a cash cow for governmental programs completely unrelated to workplace safety and compensation.”

Gagliardi is not the only official who finds the move disconcerting.

Last week, University of Colorado, Colorado Springs Chancellor Pam Shockley-Zalabak said while the move would provide a much-needed “one-time solution,” ultimately the temporary fix could jeopardize already declining post-secondary education enrollment throughout Southern Colorado.

“We need the money, but thanks to TABOR (the Taxpayer Bill of Rights) restrictions, next year we’ll have to address a similar situation. Some smaller colleges will be facing a struggle to survive if the state doesn’t find a permanent solution,” she said, adding that for every $3 paid in student tuition, the state currently contributes $1. “And during March, at UCCS alone, we’ve already seen requests for financial aid from families that can afford zero tuition jump 33 percent.”

The state attorney general is investigating whether it is legal for the state to use money from the workman’s compensation fund.