Gotham Gazette http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/464 Tue, 12 Dec 2017 02:37:59 +0000 en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) Federal Government Halts City’s Plan to Establish Private Sector Retirement Savings Program http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6910:federal-government-halts-city-s-plan-to-establish-private-sector-retirement-savings-program http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6910:federal-government-halts-city-s-plan-to-establish-private-sector-retirement-savings-program de Blasio retirement savings

(photo: Demetrius Freeman/Mayor’s Office)


Through a recently-signed resolution, President Donald Trump and the Republican-controlled Congress have struck a death blow to New York City’s plan to become the first city in the country to establish a retirement savings program for private-sector employees.

After advocates and elected officials identified a crisis in the limited amount most workers have saved for retirement and started calling for government action, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced during his February 2016 State of the City speech that New York would set on a path to create a system whereby almost all private-sector employees would have mandated access to a retirement savings program.

There would be no city match of money or guarantee of pension payouts, like with the public employee system, but the city would help launch, promote, and oversee a program that provided employees at most private-sector companies the opportunity to put aside retirement savings money in a managed investment account.

Two weeks after he announced the initiative, de Blasio and others who had spurred the effort -- especially Public Advocate Letitia James, City Council Member Ben Kallos, Comptroller Scott Stringer, liberal activist Bill Samuels, and members of AARP-NY -- held a celebratory rally at City Hall. They said they were pushing the federal Department of Labor to issue rules paving the way for their plan and that legislation would soon be introduced at the city level.

Several months later, in the waning days of the Obama administration, the Department of Labor did issue such a ruling, but just a few months after that, the new Congress passed a resolution to negate the permission the DOL had extended to large cities like New York. President Trump then signed the bill on April 13. According to multiple sources, and further illuminated by International Business Times reporting, the financial services industry has been opposed to allowing city and state-backed private-sector programs, which led to federal action.

Bannon whiteboardIn fact, rolling back city permission appears to have been a high priority for the Trump administration. In photos posted to Twitter by a visitor to his office (left), top Trump advisor Steven Bannon is shown to have listed the resolution number one under “Bills,” as part of several lists of priorities and pledges.

“This is a deeply disappointing move by President Trump and Congressional Republicans,” said Freddi Goldstein, a spokesperson for Mayor de Blasio, in a statement to Gotham Gazette. “As the mayor has repeatedly pointed out, fewer than half of all working New Yorkers have access to a plan that can help them save for their retirement years. This legislation does little more than block them from securing their futures.”

When city officials and advocates were celebrating their plan for such a program last year, they pointed out that “most private sector workers in New York City do not have any access to a retirement savings program, disproportionately impacting low-income, immigrant, minority, and female New Yorkers,” according to an announcement from the mayor’s office. It also said that “only 43 percent of working New Yorkers have access to a plan that can help them save for retirement: and “even those who have started to save do not have much: 40 percent of New Yorkers between the ages of 50 and 64 have less than $10,000 saved for retirement.”

Importantly, corresponding state-level efforts to create a private-sector retirement-savings program have not yet been nullified in Washington, D.C. -- several states already have programs in motion, but no cities. The House of Representatives passed a resolution to roll back the Department of Labor ruling dealing with states, and on Wednesday it moved through the Senate, and will head to President Trump's desk.

The Senate votes on both the city and state measures was 50-49, with one senator not voting.

In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo established in 2016 a commission to study the issue and recommend details for a program. While that effort, known as The SMART Commission, has moved slowly, the governor’s office insists it is progressing. Perhaps sensing its slow pace, de Blasio and city officials decided to move on a program as well. Now, city stakeholders will have to watch to see if Congress disallows the state from continuing, and, if not, whether Cuomo will indeed act to create a system for private sector retirement savings.

“The SMART Commission continues its work examining all ways we can create a state-administered retirement system to bolster savings for New Yorkers,” a spokesperson for Gov. Cuomo emailed Gotham Gazette in late March. “The Commission continues to meet and a report on their findings will be issued in the coming months.”

Despite the move by federal officials to block cities from instituting such programs, Public Advocate James and Council Member Kallos decided to symbolically introduce legislation for a city system.

“The federal government is failing our seniors when it comes to retirement security,” James said in a statement. She and Kallos are urging Trump to veto the state-related resolution if it gets to his desk through the Senate.

Kallos told Gotham Gazette that he and James felt it was important to introduce the city legislation anyway, and that perhaps there is hope for the future. “We had wanted to introduce it before [the federal resolution] was signed, but even after it was signed we felt it was worth introducing, because maybe one day we’ll be able to move forward.”

“Most New Yorkers aren’t saving for their retirement,” Kallos said, adding that New Yorkers should know it is the federal government that is helping to hold them back. The city program would be “opt out,” meaning that eligible workers would be automatically enrolled through their employers and have to actively choose to not participate. The only contributions would be from the employees, likely starting at a low fixed percentage of earnings with the ability to dedicate more toward what would in most cases be low-risk investment.

Kallos said that he and James have been working closely with the de Blasio administration and its federal lobbyists. “Tish has been in the lead,” he said of James, “the City Council has played a role, and the Mayor’s Office has been pushing in D.C.”

The two bills (Int. 1574 and Int. 1580) introduced by James and Kallos would establish a program and a board to oversee it. “The Board would be established to administer the plan, engage in rulemaking, auditing, and reporting, along with public education and community outreach forums,” according to information from the offices of Kallos and James. “The plan would cover all employers with more than ten employees that did not already offer a retirement plan. At no cost to the employer, private sector employees would be automatically enrolled, with an option to decline, in a payroll deduction pre-tax retirement savings plan administered by the City.”

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Note: this article has been updated to reflect the Senate vote on the state-related measure.

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Federal Government Halts City’s Plan to Establish Private Sector Retirement Savings Program Wed, 03 May 2017 04:00:00 +0000
Federal Government Paves Way for City-Backed Retirement Savings Program http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6692:federal-government-paves-way-for-city-backed-retirement-savings-program http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6692:federal-government-paves-way-for-city-backed-retirement-savings-program de blasio aarp retirement savings city hall rally

Mayor de Blasio at a February rally (Demetrius Freeman/Mayor's Office)


Responding to interest from cities including New York, the federal Department of Labor has ruled that certain municipalities can establish publicly-run retirement savings programs for private-sector workers whose employers do not offer such a program.

In February, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced his intention to create a new retirement-savings program during his State of the City speech, citing the fact that more than half of private sector workers in New York City do not have access to a retirement savings program through their place of work. New York City could become the first city in the country to launch such a program, which exist in five states.

The de Blasio administration hailed the Department of Labor ruling, which was posted December 19, as a key step in making the plan a reality.

“We applaud the United States Department of Labor for taking this important step toward building retirement security for everyday Americans,” said de Blasio spokesperson Freddi Goldstein, in a statement to Gotham Gazette. “For the better part of the year, we have been advocating and preparing to become the first city in the country to create a retirement savings program for private sector employees, and with the recent DOL rule, we are one step closer.”

Soon after de Blasio’s February announcement, the mayor rallied at City Hall with other top elected officials and advocates in support of creating a private-sector retirement-savings program in New York City. The mayor said he would be working with City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, Public Advocate Letitia James, and City Council Member Ben Kallos on legislation. In June 2015 Public Advocate James released a reporting highlighting gaps in retirement savings for many New Yorkers. City Comptroller Scott Stringer, who oversees the city’s public pension system and was at the time studying the best path for a private sector program, also attended the rally in support.

In order to move a bill and launch a program, the city needed clearance from the Department of Labor, which it petitioned for and has now received.

“More workers saving for retirement now means more financially secure retirees in the future,” said U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez in a statement accompanying the DOL ruling. “This is good for workers and families trying to build their nest eggs, and good for the long-term strength of the economy.”

The DOL announcement said that three cities -- New York, Philadelphia, and Seattle -- have shown interest in launching a city-backed private-sector retirement-savings program. According to the de Blasio administration, the city would put up seed money to launch the program and expects it to be self-sustaining after an initial start-up period. The city would not have any additional financial burden and would not guarantee benefits like it does with its public sector pensions. Goldstein said there is no timetable for legislation at this point.

As initially outlined by de Blasio, the program would apply to workers at business of ten employees or more that do not already have a retirement-savings program (a pension or 401(k)). Businesses that offer programs could not dissolve them to move employees to the city-initiated one.

As mandated by the Department of Labor, it would be optional for workers, though advocates like AARP New York are calling for any such program to include auto-enrollment, which would make opting in far easier and is said to drastically increase participation. De Blasio’s initial proposal outline included auto-enrollment.

De Blasio’s February outline also said that contributions would be “exclusively from employees (rather than from employers or the City) and made through payroll” and “based on a default rate,” though “employees would have the ability to change their rate or opt out of the program.” Additionally, workers “would be able to transfer the savings account from job to job.” The city “would create a board to establish and oversee the management of the program,” which would be phased in over the course of years.

In October, Comptroller Stringer put out a detailed proposal for what the program could like like, including a new "NYC 401(k) marketplace."

In a statement Thursday, Stringer called the Department of Labor's new ruling "a major step in the right direction, because every worker should have a fair shot at a secure retirement." Of his report, Stringer said, "We hope New York City Nest Egg will be a blueprint for reform. This work is so important, and we will work with stakeholders across all levels of government to move this issue forward in the new year."

According to AARP’s policy shop, more than half of private-sector workers in New York State -- over 3.5 million people -- lack access to a retirement savings program, which are especially scarce through small businesses.

Per the de Blasio administration, “only 43 percent of working New Yorkers have access to a plan that can help them save for retirement,” but they are often subject to large fees, and “even those who have started to save do not have much: 40 percent of New Yorkers between the ages of 50 and 64 have less than $10,000 saved for retirement.”

The city-focused ruling from the Department of Labor, which applies only to municipalities of a certain size, comes after DOL paved the way for state-run programs earlier this year. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo already has a commission studying the issue. A state program could supercede a city one, though it would also depend on the details of the programs if the city were to launch one before the state. It is too early to tell which level of government will act first. In the city, Public Advocate James and City Council Member Ben Kallos are expected to lead on introducing legislation at the City Council, and the bill would likely go through Kallos' governmental operations committee.

According to the Department of Labor, “States and political subdivisions have a substantial governmental interest to encourage retirement savings in order to protect the economic security of their residents.”

“Our city and state leaders have a golden opportunity to empower millions of New Yorkers to build financial security,” said AARP New York State Director Beth Finkel, in a statement reacting to the new DOL ruling. “The state and city should fill in the gaps left by an economy in which fewer companies are able to provide savings options.”

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Note: this article has been updated with comment from Comptroller Stringer and a few additional details.

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Federal Government Paves Way for City-Backed Retirement Savings Program Thu, 29 Dec 2016 05:00:00 +0000
The Week That Was in New York Politics, Feb. 22-26 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6195:the-week-that-was-in-new-york-politics-feb-22-26 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6195:the-week-that-was-in-new-york-politics-feb-22-26 week in review bus readers

photo: Stanley Kubrick via Museum of the City of New York


Gotham Gazette's Week in Review, Friday February 26, 2015.

PHOTO OF THE WEEK: Mayor de Blasio & NYPD officials unveil CompStat 2.0, via Demetrius Freeman/Mayoral Photography Office; Gov. Cuomo and his minimum wage bus, via Kevin P. Coughlin/Office of the Governor.

de blasio bratton compstat

cuomo minimum wage bus

TOP FIVE STORIES OF THE WEEK:
1. Private Sector Retirement:
On Thursday, Mayor de Blasio, joined by Public Advocate Letitia James, Comptroller Scott Stringer, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, and others, held a press conference in City Hall to advocate for a city-run retirement savings program for private sector workers. The ‘Security for All New Yorkers’ plan aims to allow some 1.4 million private sector workers who do not have a retirement savings plan through their employer to have contributions automatically deducted from their paycheck. However, federal regulations must change for the retirement plan to move forward. [Read: Private Sector Retirement Security Plans Become Next Progressive Cause]

2. Special Election: Rafael Salamanca, Jr., a district manager at Bronx Community Board 2, is the newest member of the City Council after winning a special election in District 17 in the Bronx on Tuesday. Salamanca’s win against the five other candidates didn’t come as much of a surprise, as he had the backing of the Bronx Democratic County Committee, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., and unions. Salamanca will replace Maria del Carmen Arroyo, who resigned last December. [Read: Voters to Fill Vacant Bronx Council Seat in Special Election]

3. Rezoning East New York: On Wednesday, the City Planning Commission approved Mayor de Blasio’s rezoning plan for the East New York section of Brooklyn, despite vocal opposition from community members. The proposal now heads to the City Council, and Council members who represent the area have expressed concern about the plan’s affordability levels for their constituents. East New York will be the first of 15 neighborhoods to be rezoned as part of de Blasio’s affordable housing plan. [Read: Richards Puts Communities of Color at Forefront of Housing Debate]

4. CompStat 2.0: On Tuesday, Mayor de Blasio, Police Commissioner Bill Bratton, and Deputy Commissioner of Information and Technology Jessica Tish unveiled CompStat 2.0, an interactive online crime data system that tracks the date and location to the nearest intersection of major crimes like shootings, murders, and rapes.

5. Homelessness Dispute: The feud between the city and state over the city’s homelessness problems escalated this week after HRA Commissioner Steven Banks sent a letter to a state official blasting the Cuomo administration for leaking a false report of a gang rape in a city homeless shelter to a tabloid in what Banks described as a “political media hit” that undermined the city’s efforts to help homeless individuals. Banks called on the state to address its own shortcomings to improve the homelessness crisis.

THIS WEEK’S NUMBERS:

  • 3296 votes cast during Tuesday’s special election in the Bronx, according to the Board of Elections’ unofficial election night results.
  • 19% increase in reported sex crimes on the subways, from 620 in 2014 to 738 in 2015, the Times reports.
  • 9 second increase in the amount of time ambulances took to respond to life threatening emergencies in 2015 (9 minutes, 22 seconds), despite added funding to reduce response times, the Daily News reports.
  • 81 ambulance tours - 10% of shifts citywide - will be eliminated as one of the city’s biggest private ambulance companies shut down Wednesday after filing for bankruptcy, according to WNYC.
  • 49% of New York City residents see the ongoing feud between Mayor de Blasio and Governor Cuomo as a “power struggle,” rather than actual policy differences according to an NY1/Baruch College poll.
  • 43% of working New Yorkers have access to a retirement plan and 40% of New Yorkers between the ages of 50 and 64 have less than $10,000 saved for retirement, Gotham Gazette reports.
  • 11 letters exchanged between city and state officials in recent weeks over the conditions of New York City’s homeless shelters and violence in the shelters, culminating in a scathing letter from HRA Commissioner Steven Banks this week, the Times reports
  • $71.9 million spent by lobbyists in an effort to sway city government in 2014, the Journal reports.
  • 1.4 million New Yorkers currently do not have a retirement savings plan through their employers, the Times reports.
  • 1,083 teachers from New York City schools still collect salaries and benefits without holding full-time positions in the school, according to data released by the education department, Chalkbeat reports.

THE GLORY AND THE GOAT:
It was a good week for
Mayor de Blasio, whose approval rating is up 14 points from September according to a NY1/Baruch College poll, which found 58 percent of New York City residents approve of the job the mayor is doing.

It was a bad week for Brooklyn City Council Member David Greenfield, who saw his leadership role questioned amid disagreements within the Council.

THE FLASH:
Around this time 51 years ago, on February 21, 1965, Malcolm X was shot and killed by Nation of Islam followers at the Audubon Ballroom in Washington Heights.

Around this time last year, on February 24, 2015, former Assembly speaker Sheldon Silver pleaded not guilty to the federal corruption charges against him during his arraignment. Silver was found guilty on all seven counts against him in November, 2015.

Around this time 19 years ago, on February 23, 1997, a gunman opened fire on the observation deck of the Empire State Building, killing one person and wounding six others before turning the gun on himself.

Around this time two years ago, on February 26, 2014, the City Council passed a bill expanding paid sick leave.

GOTHAM GAZETTE HIGHLIGHTS OF THE WEEK:

Richards Puts Communities of Color at Forefront of Housing Debate, by Ben Max

Caucus Members Cheerful But Cautious as Cuomo Embraces Their Agenda, by David Howard King

Private Sector Retirement Security Plans Become Next Progressive Cause, David Howard King

Application Season Underscores Community Board Reform Efforts, Ryan Brady

Voters to Fill Vacant Bronx Council Seat in Special Election, Samar Khurshid

Special Election Shows Need for Democratization, by Serin Choi (opinion)

Protecting Freelancers: Policy Innovation at Work, by Jesse Strauss (opinion)

No Surprise Uber Drivers Are Protesting, by David Beier (opinion)

Shut Down the Criminal Court, by Steven Zeidman (opinion)

Peter Liang’s Conviction Shouldn't Be Dividing the Asian American Community, by Justin Chan (opinion)

Safe and Healthy Housing for All New Yorkers, by Dulce María Rivera (opinion)

MORE FOR THE WEEKEND:

Gotham Gazette’s city government reporter Samar Khurshid and Alex Armlovich, policy analyst from the Manhattan Institute talk about welfare reform under Mayor de Blasio with City Limits executive editor Jarrett Murphy on BRIC TV.

Neil Barsky, founder and chairman of the Marshall Project, and Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union joined NY Slant’s Gerson Borrero and Nick Powell to discuss feasibility, motives, and politics around the movement to close Rikers Island, and efforts to reform the notorious jail complex.

After the City Planning Commission approved a comprehensive plan to rezone East New York as part of an effort to create more affordable housing, Planning Commission Chair Carl Weisbrod sat down with NY1’s Errol Louis to discuss the plan.

Catch up on the latest discussion of housing policy and politics in New York with Gotham Gazette's Ben Max and City Limits' Jarrett Murphy.

Following the dismal turnout in Tuesday’s special election in the Bronx, former Bronx state Assemblymember Michael Benjamin wrote in NY Slant about the dire need for more efforts to increase voter engagement and participation.

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NOTE TO READERS: we hope you enjoy this new Gotham Gazette weekly feature - please share it if you do; on Twitter, use our handle @GothamGazette.

If you have feedback on this feature for us, you can email editor Ben Max: bmax@gothamgazette.com

Watch Sunday evening for our latest Week Ahead in New York Politics, which gives you a preview of key issues and events to be aware of for the week about to start. In the meantime, catch up on the latest original reporting from Gotham Gazette here. And have a great weekend!

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by Meg O'Connor and Ben Max

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The Week That Was in New York Politics, Feb. 22-26 Fri, 26 Feb 2016 19:41:37 +0000
Private Sector Retirement Security Plans Become Next Progressive Cause http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6192:private-sector-retirement-security-plans-become-next-progressive-cause http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6192:private-sector-retirement-security-plans-become-next-progressive-cause de blasio state of the city

De Blasio delivers his State of the City (photo: Demetrius Freeman/Mayor's Office) 


Experts warn that the entire country could be headed for a financial crisis caused by the fact that an aging workforce has not been saving for retirement.

Whether due to cutbacks of public pensions, the lack of retirement plans offered by private employers, or workers forced to raid their savings, it appears to a growing number of advocates and politicians that many Americans will be forced to keep working far into old age or attempt to survive on below-poverty-level support from Social Security and local welfare programs.

"If we don't make sure something is in place to prevent this, the city and state will have a catastrophe on their hands," Beth Finkel, director of AARP's New York office, told Gotham Gazette. "Ultimately these people are going to turn to the state and city to survive."

City officials cite stark statistics - only 43 percent of working New Yorkers have access to a retirement plan and 40 percent of New Yorkers between the ages of 50 and 64 have less than $10,000 saved for retirement.

It appears to be an issue that is keeping New York's political leaders up at night. It also presents an opportunity for elected officials to lead on another progressive policy matter.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio both announced plans to confront the issue in their recent annual addresses - Cuomo's State of the State, de Blasio's State of the City. Cuomo appointed SUNY Chairman Carl McCall to head a commission to study the issue, while de Blasio said he plans to work on legislation with the City Council that would allow the city to offer retirement plans to private sector workers who are not offered plans by their employer. He outlined the framework in his Feb. 4 speech.

De Blasio's plan would make the city the first in the country to offer such a retirement program, although a few states have adopted legislation to create something similar.

Many see the issue of government-backed retirement for private sector workers as the next progressive push, after minimum wage and paid family leave. De Blasio said as much during a recent appearance on Bill Samuel's Effective Radio program. "So this is our contribution to New York City towards what I hope will be a much bigger forward march of history and it certainly aligns with what we've done on the other issues you've talked about like paid sick leave and affordable housing, pre-K, et cetera," said de Blasio. "This is a package of things that have to change urgently, not just at the local level, but up to the federal level."

De Blasio's retirement plan would require employers with 10 or more employees to offer voluntary access to a city-run retirement plan. The city would cover upfront costs of starting the plan and a board would be appointed to implement it. Employees would have their contributions automatically deducted from their paychecks. Neither the city nor the state would contribute to the plans.

Businesses would not be able to drop plans they currently offer. The bill will be crafted by the de Blasio administration in collaboration with the offices of City Council Speaker Mark-Viverito, Public Advocate Tish James, and Comptroller Scott Stringer. Representatives of the de Blasio administration did not respond when asked about a timeline to introduce a bill.

"[I]t's something the city would manage and we would put some initial investment into," the mayor told Samuels during his Sunday radio appearance. "And it would give every worker the opportunity to join a retirement security plan that they could really depend on, would not evaporate because it would be supported and backed by the City of New York, and it would mean putting their own resources into it," de Blasio said.

The de Blasio administration has also asked the federal government to act to ease burdens and liabilities the city could face in managing retirement accounts. However, not many involved in the issue expect Washington to take action anytime soon. The Department of Labor has been giving guidance to states that have attempted to implement similar programs, but has yet to issue a full set of guidelines. It is likely that the state would have to approve any city-backed retirement program.

The mayor is set to hold a press conference on the plan Thursday afternoon at City Hall at which Stringer, James, and Mark-Viverito will each also speak.

Stringer was one of the first New York officials to take on the issue, constructing a working group of nationally recognized academics to study the retirement crisis in February of last year. The group, which features academics from across the political spectrum, is expected to issue recommendations this spring.

"There's no question we have a looming crisis on our hands when it comes to retirement security – in New York and the nation," Stringer said in a statement to Gotham Gazette. "Today, 57 percent of New Yorkers lack access to a workplace retirement plan, which has huge implications both for city services and for the ability of our seniors to live out their lives in dignity."

Citing a "need to recognize that one size does not fit all when it comes to retirement security," Stringer said that his "office has been working over the past year with a diverse group of some of the nation's top academics to put together thoughtful, innovative proposals to increase retirement savings options and protect the City's budget."

Public Advocate James proposed a bill in February of last year that would have established a review commission to study the feasibility of a city-backed pension fund for private workers. The bill hasn't made it out of committee, but de Blasio's plan appears to be making it obsolete. James issued a study about the impending retirement crisis.

"There are so many major players who are committed to this that it is hard to imagine we won't get something done, but the devil is in the details," said Finkel of AARP. "I think the major players understand the urgency. Every year we put off is another year people aren't saving."

Samuels, head of public policy think tank Effective NY, said he has been lobbying top state and city leaders on the issue for a few years. Now, he said, even with interest from Cuomo, de Blasio, and a host of other city officials known to compete with each other, "There is a cooperative environment at this point." Samuels says that a number of the leaders involved in the issue have been meeting to hash out a sensible solution.

It is unclear how a state plan might interact with a city plan - whether one would override the other, or if it would make sense to have two if the state acts. Some insiders see de Blasio and Cuomo focused on an issue and wonder when the competition and skullduggery will start. Some hope that city officials will unite around one plan that will then be used by the Cuomo administration as a blueprint. De Blasio administration officials said they would welcome action by the state.

Samuels said he was first moved to address the issue during a trip to his hometown of Canandaigua, in Western New York, while talking to his old friends about their children. "Their kids, even if they had a 401K, they had to raid it for an emergency, so they have nothing for retirement. It was an eye-opener," explained Samuels.

"There is a real national problem and it's not going to get solved in Washington. We have a startling number of people heading into retirement in poverty," Samuels told Gotham Gazette. "I worked for a company that put 15 percent of my salary into retirement. Reagan convinced people they should manage their own money. So What happened was 401Ks were set up and almost all companies stopped putting any money in toward retirement."

There is debate among politicians, academics, advocates, and business leaders about how to offer a retirement plan that actually helps workers save without hurting small businesses. Issues in play include: what size of businesses to target, how to manage employee deductions, what kind of plans make sense for workers, and how to make sure plans are transferable should an employee find a new job or move. There will also be questions about management of the program, as there always are about public pension funds.

The Partnership for New York City, a leading city business group, is supportive of the idea behind de Blasio's plan. The group's president, Kathryn Wylde, said in an interview that the issue is extremely complicated and that she has concerns. "Frankly, I'd rather have the federal government or the state do something broader," Wylde told Gotham Gazette, whiling stressing that she supports de Blasio's action.

Wylde said businesses in different locales would have more of an equal footing if a retirement plan was offered by the federal or state government. She also pointed to underlying economic issues. "I'm not sure that simply providing a plan is a magic bullet," Wylde said. "People living on subsistence wages aren't suddenly going to have enough money to save. So I'm not sure there is a way to make this work without some sort of subsidy."

Mike Durant, state director for the National Federation for Independent Business, said that his members are concerned about having the state get involved in the issue, given their current fight against New York Democrats' push for a higher minimum wage and paid family leave.

"From the small employer perspective, we balloted our members on this topic last Fall with 85 percent of respondents opposed, with wide-ranging fears," Durant told Gotham Gazette.

Durant said members are concerned about liability issues, and "yet another mandate handed down by government that could potentially fail to recognize the significant differences between Main Street and big business." Costs for managing contributions could be prohibitive to small "mom and pop" businesses that operate without a formal human resources office, Durant said.

"Simply, these proposals are concerning and have many moving parts and there is definitely not a simple solution across the spectrum of business," said Durant. "Albany has definitely not proven it is capable of acknowledging the complex differences between big and small business through legislation, which adds to our concerns."

A number of states have passed legislation to implement state-backed private sector retirement plans in a variety of ways.

California adopted such a plan in 2012. There, the bill requires employers of five or more that don't offer a retirement plan to offer a savings plan similar to an IRA that is backed by the California Public Employees' Retirement System.

Illinois adopted a plan in 2014 that requires employers that do not offer a retirement plan, have been in business for more than two years, and employ 25 or more to automatically enroll employees in a state-managed plan that offers a variety of investment plans and payroll deduction levels.

Connecticut has dedicated $400,000 to the creation of a board to study and create a state-based retirement security plan. The plan must be submitted to the state by April of this year.

None of these states have begun accepting contributions to their plans and many are waiting for more guidance from the federal government.

Samuels, of EffectiveNY, said that the wide variety of opinions on how to implement a plan, the number of principles involved, and the scope of the debate are encouraging to him. "Everyone is on the same page that this is an important issue," he said. "There is lots of overlap but we are headed toward a solution. The reason I pushed the city first is I felt it would be tough to get through in the state, but the politics have changed and now Cuomo has named a commission."

Finkel of AARP said that she expects New York City will lead on the issue and that cities and other states across the country will follow.

"Studies tell us that people are 15 times more likely to save if they have something automatically deducted from their paycheck. It's low-hanging fruit and I would hope that New York City will be the first city in the country to implement this kind of plan."

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by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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Private Sector Retirement Security Plans Become Next Progressive Cause Wed, 24 Feb 2016 23:31:50 +0000