Ill. legislature urged to pass retirement billNews added by Benefits Pro on April 16, 2014

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By Lisa Barron

Illinois State Sen. Daniel Biss, a Democrat from the Chicago suburb of Evanston, says he is thrilled that his colleagues voted to create a retirement savings plan for private sector workers.

The Illinois Senate approved the bill, the Illinois Secure Choice Savings Plan, on a 30-22 vote, the bare minimum for it to pass, on Wednesday.

"On a personal level this is one of my top priorities and I have continued to put tremendous work into it," Biss told Benefitspro.

"But more important, I believe that the problem of clearly massively inadequate retirement savings is a giant and actually under-discussed problem. And I think it's really important to take significant action and it’s important to bring more attention to the issue," he said.

"Because when you think about the number of people, tens of millions around the country, who are significantly under-saving for retirement, and look at experts who say there is a gap of trillions between what they have put away and would like to put away, it's one of the great economic challenges in contemporary society."

In Illinois alone, Biss said more than 2.5 million people out of a population of 13 million—half the private sector work force— are without access to employee-sponsored retirement plans and the vast majority are saving extremely little.

Under the plan, workers at companies that have more than 25 employees and that do not offer a retirement plan could participate in the program.

If the bill becomes law, those workers will automatically be enrolled in the plan unless they opt out of it. If they participate, 3 percent of their paychecks will be deducted and deposited into a retirement account. Money from all participating workers will be pooled and invested in a retirement investment plan run by a private company selected by a board.

Several Republicans in the Senate said the state shouldn't be getting involved. Sen. Dave Syverson of Rockford said there is nothing stopping employers from offering retirement savings plans on their own right now.

He also said workers might earn better returns by starting their own retirement savings account using one of the plans already offered by private financial companies.

"This is one more example of the nanny state," said Sen. Jim Oberweis of Sugar Grove.

Biss rejected the notion that automatic enrollment is paternalistic and condescending, pointing to his own experience with a retirement plan at his first job as a 24-year-old PhD in mathematics.

"I was a sophisticated thinker in arithmetic and compound interest. But when the HR person offered me the chance to participate in the employer's 401(k) with a match, I didn’t', not because I tried to analyze it and concluded it was a bad idea. It was because I was 24 and couldn’t bear to think about retirement and I couldn't force myself to go through the exercise," he explained.
"When you poll people you get a lot of answers like that. They have more pressing problems, they are too busy. Human psychology has evolved to deal with problems right in front of us rather than 40 or 50 years from now. My experience and data we see suggests that regardless of how well educated someone appears to be, this long term decision making is not something people are equipped to do."

Biss continued, "Also, if you look around the world at different times in history and how retirement has been tackled, there have been a broad variety of different approaches. Some have worked and some have not. But it has never worked to say people will take care of it for themselves."

Senate Bill 2758 now goes to the House for consideration. "I'm working very hard on that right now. It could be argued it was party line vote in the Senate. There's a huge Democratic majority in the Senate just a big majority in the House. And very controversial, complicated bills are harder to pass on party lines in the House," Biss said.

"There's a chance but it will be hard. And it's important enough to do difficult things to make it happen."

The bill is supported by more than 45 businesses, associations and advocacy groups, including AARP Illinois.

"Our concern is the number of individuals who don’t have any savings, and add to that the individuals who are going to rely on Social Security alone, which is never going to be enough," Bob Gallo AARP Illinois State Director, told Benefitspro.

"There's an economic imperative. If we have a nation of poor or retired people, and it looks to be heading that way, the House has to do something now. It has a great opportunity to step up and do something for current employees and baby boomers. "

Gallo said AARP is reaching out to individual House members as well as to existing members to urge them to express their concerns about retirement savings to their elected representatives.

The National Conference on Public Employee Retirement Systems (NCPERS) is also calling on Illinois congressmen to pass the legislation.

"Illinois can be at the vanguard of addressing the national crisis, It can show itself as a true leader and show the country what anecdotally the states are known for , and that's a laboratory for good government," Executive Director and Counsel for the NCPERS Hank Kim told Benefitspro.

NCPERS launched its own proposal for addressing the private security retirement crisis, the Secure Choice Pension plan, in September 2011.

"Since then we have been crisscrossing the country advocating for a public private partnership based at the state level for retirement security for employees in the private sector, especially small businesses, who don't have opportunities to save for retirement through and employer-based plan," Kim said.

The organization has been active in all states that is seriously considering proposals like the one in Illinois, including Massachusetts, Washington, Maryland, Wisconsin and Minneapolis.

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