Opinion: Column

Putting progress in reverse to save the budget costly move

By Taylor Nye
The Badger Herald
Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The times, they are a changin,’ as Bob Dylan said. Scott Walker and the Republican Legislature are giving themselves a tabula rasa with budget, transportation and everything else they can get their hands on, and they now look to car insurance laws passed under Doyle as something more to wipe off the slate. Two years ago, Democratic legislators increased minimum levels of required car insurance, which hadn’t changed since the 1980s. The new House, with the obvious backing of over 200 Wisconsin insurance agencies, seeks to repeal this law and reinstate several different measures that would reduce the number of people who get insurance.

Right now, all drivers are required to have minimum insurance, and insurers must provide drivers with underinsured or uninsured coverage, meaning that those who have too little or no insurance don’t have to pay as much when they get in a crash. This coverage had previously been voluntary, and if the law is repealed, will be voluntary again. Repealing the law will also carry with it more insurer-friendly clauses: insurers will be able to put first-time drivers in a high-risk, high paying category as well as limit the amount insured drivers can collect if they are involved in a crash with an underinsured driver. It will also re-criminalize “stacking,” which was legalized in 2009, where an insured driver uses coverage from other vehicles to help pay for damages during an accident.

“There was no need for these changes in the first place,” said Andy Franken, president of the Wisconsin Insurance Alliance, a group of lobbyists who fought the legislation’s implementation. They maintain that 96 percent of drivers were covered under previous laws and that the passage of this bill resulted in higher insurance costs, which Democrats deny. Franken and 200 other insurance companies say that “It is ridiculous for government to force people to buy insurance they may not need nor cannot afford,” and that not having the government require coverage allows those in lower income tax brackets to have more options when choosing coverage.

On one hand, it seems like Walker and insurance companies are looking out for our best interests. No one wants their government telling them what to do, especially in regards to buying car insurance, which is costly and complicated. With Walker’s history, though, we can’t assume that he’s looking out for anything other than his budget. Repealing this law may indeed save Wisconsin drivers money, but what the government saves will undoubtedly be much more, not to mention whatever deal-sweeteners the insurance lobbyists are throwing in for Walker’s administration.

Our newly elected governor is not only trying to save his budget some expenditures at the cost of lower-income drivers, but also playing ball with big business. Car insurance is literally a multi-million dollar business, and it’s foolish to think that Walker’s administration isn’t getting a piece of the pie in some way or another. Additionally, although the insurance lobbyists vying for Walker’s attention represent companies that provide insurance in Wisconsin, it does not necessarily mean that these are Wisconsin jobs or Wisconsin businesses.

Repealing this law, says Edward Vopal, president-elect of the trial attorneys’ group the Wisconsin Association for Justice, would amount to “drastic measures that would substantially limit the rights of Wisconsin consumers.” Respectfully speaking, the passing of this law in the first place was what limited the rights of Wisconsin consumers.

As drivers, the Democrat-mandated minimum has meant we don’t get as many choices about how much or what kind of coverage we would like. For this reason, it’s relatively easy to support Scott Walker’s repeal of the law and buy into the “reclaiming our rights” position of the insurance companies. With a little thought, though, it’s easy to see that a budget-slashing governor and insurance fat cats are not actually interested in low-income Wisconsin drivers having their pick of policies, and it’s not even as if insurance lobbyists can say they’re keeping jobs or dollars in the Wisconsin economy. Although we voted Walker into office, we can’t let him wipe the slate clean on policies that have both benefited Wisconsinites and made car insurance salesmen toe the line.

Taylor Nye is a sophomore majoring in biological anthropology and intending to major in Latin American studies.

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