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Arizona court: Lawmakers can take from injured workers' money

Arizona lawmakers will be permitted to dip into cash for injured workers in order to balance the state budget, according to recent reports from the capitol building. The Court of Appeals approved the move, which would essentially strip funds from the workers' compensation fund in order to provide other essential services for state residents.

The funds are collected from employers, according to media reports, in order to pay for medical bills and associated costs from on-the-job injuries. A lower court had argued that the money was earmarked for specific purposes, especially considering its purpose; without that money, injured workers cannot receive the medical care they need. Still, attorneys for the workers were unable to prove that the state could not meet its obligations to employees while essentially stealing from their coffers.

Arizona law requires all companies to pay for workers' compensation insurance. Some purchase private insurance, while others self-insure. The Industrial Commission, a group that oversees the administration of Arizona workers' compensation, maintains a fund for workers whose companies fail to obtain insurance.

Without the state money, those workers would be stuck paying their medical bills on their own.

The account is funded by a special tax on the state's companies. A 2009 action from state lawmakers sought to recover money from the fund in order to balance the state's general budget. The workers' compensation fund was raided, along with money from a tobacco-education fund and the Central Arizona Project, which is part of a Colorado River protection effort.

Groups may still appeal to the Arizona Supreme Court in order to reverse the precedent. If lawmakers are allowed to dip into special funds whenever they run short on cash, workers throughout the state will undoubtedly suffer. This is an egregious violation of workers' rights, according to experts, who say that lawmakers are now likely to see the set-asides as "piggy banks" that can be used in case they are too unskilled to balance the state budget on their own.

Source: The Yuma Sun, "Arizona gets OK to raid fund for workers," Howard Fischer, Nov. 23, 2012.

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