DFL’s St. Paul mayoral candidate defends nonprofit agency work

by Tom Ford

Jay Benanav, the DFL-endorsed candidate for St. Paul mayor, says the city needs more affordable housing, safer neighborhoods and increased recreational and educational opportunities for kids.

His primary qualification, Benanav said, is his 13-year success as CEO of a controversial state-mandated, privately run, nonprofit reinsurance agency called the Worker’s Compensation Reinsurance Association.

All Minnesota employers and insurers are required to buy WCRA reinsurance, which protects companies in the event of an influx of work-related injuries and unaffordable compensation claims.

Benanav, a City Council member representing St. Paul’s 4th Ward, which includes part of the St. Paul campus, said he eliminated a $45 million deficit and earned the agency a $1.5 billion surplus as CEO.

“It’s that kind of skill and executive decision-making and attention to the bottom line that ultimately is what the mayor’s job is about,” Benanav said.

In the past eight years, while paying all its claims, Benanav said the WCRA has refunded its customers more than the money collected on its premiums, including $402 million in 1994.

The WCRA will be sending checks – about 100,000 in all – to every Minnesota employer during the next two to three months, said Benanav.

“Whatever money we make goes back and more,” Benanav said.

Despite the success, the WCRA has been criticized because it is privately run and its employees aren’t state workers. That means the agency isn’t required to publicly disclose its finances.

Since 1998, Sen. Cal Larson, R-Fergus Falls, has attempted but failed to pass legislation eliminating the WCRA’s private status and to make its annual salaries and operating expenses public.

Rep. Phil Krinkie, R-Shoreview, chairman of the House State Government Finance Committee, said if the WCRA would disclose its finances, the Legislature would have the opportunity to determine if the WCRA’s monopoly is necessary or appropriate.

Krinkie said Benanav and the WCRA could dismiss the scrutiny and eliminate doubts if it would disclose its expenses.

Krinkie said the WCRA’s private status is “really a technicality” and that being open with the public shouldn’t be a problem if the agency has been successful and fair.

Benanav has disclosed his salary – $180,000 a year – but said since the WCRA is not a state agency, “It’s not appropriate for us to divulge everyone’s salary.”

Benanav uses the agency’s
success to defend the WCRA’s monopoly status.

“The issue is, ‘Have we been successful?’ Yes,” he said. “The bottom line is we’ve succeeded.”

Benanav said his record as a City Council member proves he is committed to his campaign issues.

In March 1999, he helped put together a housing resolution requiring all city-financed projects to make 20 percent of their units affordable.

Benanav said he added $1.4 million to the St. Paul police budget early this year without increasing taxes, allowing the force to be fully staffed for the first time since he’s been a council member.

Benanav said he composed a successful project in 2000 between the city and Ramsey County providing $1 million for St. Paul youth soccer facilities.

As mayor, Benanav said he’d continue his efforts investing in people, neighborhoods and small businesses.

“It’s not just a slogan that a city is as great as its people,” he said.


Tom Ford covers the St. Paul campus and welcomes comments at [email protected]