SPRINGFIELD - Concerns that Caterpillar Inc. is being courted by other states could light a fire under Illinois officials to overhaul the state's workers' compensation system, lawmakers said Monday.
In a three-paragraph letter sent to Gov. Pat Quinn last week, Caterpillar Chairman Doug Oberhelman called on the governor to help improve Illinois' business climate through unspecified changes in state policies. The head of the Peoria-based heavy-equipment maker said other states are wooing the company.
"The direction that this state is headed in is not favorable to business, and I'd like to work with you to change that," Oberhelman wrote in the letter first obtained by the Quad-City Times Springfield bureau.
Although much of the recruiting of Illinois businesses was launched after the state raised its income tax rates in January, Republicans and Democrats say Oberhelman's letter could spark lawmakers to take action on the system designed to protect injured workers.
"It might bring some clarity to members," said state Rep. John Bradley, D-Marion. "We certainly don't want Caterpillar to leave the state."
"I think it will be a motivator," added state Rep. Dan Brady, R-Bloomington. "That could put everyone's feet to the fire."1
Bradley and Brady are among a core group of lawmakers working with the Quinn administration to write a package of reforms that lowers the cost of workers' compensation for businesses while not weakening protections for workers.
"There's going to have to be some sacrifice on everybody's part," Bradley said.
"It's extremely complex," Brady said Monday. "But the letter hits home on the severity of the need for reform."
The Quinn administration issued a statement Monday saying reform is "essential to growing our economy."
"This is a top priority of the governor's administration, and he is taking the lead on this issue," the statement said. "The governor is working with the General Assembly to achieve workers comp reform as quickly as possible, and he has called on them to pass legislation to address this important issue this spring."
Quinn and Oberhelman are expected to discuss the situation April 5 when the governor visits Peoria to receive an award for his efforts to expand the use of electric cars in Illinois. The presenter of the award will be Oberhelman.
The letter sent shockwaves through the state, primarily because of Caterpillar's deep roots in Illinois. The company employs 23,000 at its manufacturing facilities, including plants in Decatur, Pontiac and Morton.
"I hope Governor Quinn is serious about the April 5 meeting with Cat," said state Rep. Shane Cultra, R-Onarga. "I pledge to do my part to work with other lawmakers, the governor and our job creators to make Illinois more competitive."
Bradley said he has little doubt a workers' compensation proposal will be presented to lawmakers later this spring. But he is unsure there will be enough agreement to get it approved in the General Assembly.
"I think most people recognize something needs to be done," Bradley said.