Five years ago, Ohio’s agency for injured workers was at the center of an investment scandal that cost the Republican party control of all but one state office.
Now with the GOP set to take over again, Ohio’s incoming governor has asked a veteran state lawmaker who once worked in the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation long before the scandal to reform the agency.
Gov.-elect John Kasich selected state Sen. Steve Buehrer on Nov. 23 to become administrator of the state’s insurance fund for injured workers.
Buehrer, a Republican, has overseen bureau operations from the inside and outside. The Delta resident currently represents Ohio Senate District 1, which includes Defiance, Fulton, Hancock, Hardin, Henry, Paulding, Putnam, Van Wert, Williams and parts of Auglaize County.
Before becoming a state lawmaker, he was head of human resources for three years until 1998. He most recently chaired a panel of lawmakers that oversaw the health of the fund.
The panel, called the Ohio Workers’ Compensation Council, was created in 2007 after a former Republican fundraiser was convicted of stealing from an Ohio investment he managed on behalf of the bureau.
A three-year investigation into the scandal netted nearly 20 convictions, including former GOP fundraiser Tom Noe. Democrats charged that Noe’s political connections helped him land a deal with the state to manage a $50 million investment in rare coins, Beanie Babies and other collectibles.
Several prominent Republicans got caught up in the scandal, which cost the injured workers’ fund $300 million. Buehrer was not among them. He did receive nearly $8,000 in campaign contributions from Noe that he later gave back.
Buehrer said Tuesday that politics has no place in the agency.
“We’re not going to run that as a political agency,” he said. “It’s too important as a job creation tool.”
Kasich wants to streamline the agency and cut down on the costs that he said burdens employers who pay into the insurance fund.
The current system is inefficient and inhibits businesses from hiring more workers because of the costs, Kasich said. He said employers tell him they pay too much in premiums and are never certain what costs will be from year to year.
“It’s a roller coaster ride,” he said. “One year it’s high, the next minute it’s low.”
Kasich said it’s too early to say exactly what will change.
“We will look at modernizing every feature of this program,” he said. “Often times, politics has stopped any kind of improvement we would like to see there.”