California Dreaming: The California Secure Choice Retirement Savings Trust Act
84 Pages Posted: 2 May 2013
Date Written: April 30, 2013
Half of American workers are not covered by employer-sponsored retirement arrangements. The recently passed California Secure Choice Retirement Savings Trust Act seeks to solve this problem by mandating retirement savings arrangements for California employers, coupled with a public investment vehicle for investing these private retirement savings. The Act is important because of California’s size and status as a trendsetter for other states.
This Article is the first to examine the important legal questions the Act raises under the Internal Revenue Code and ERISA. Contrary to the drafters’ intent, the savings accounts authorized under the Act do not qualify as individual retirement accounts under the Code. Hence, employees participating in savings arrangements established under the Act will not receive the income tax benefits associated with individual retirement accounts.
If the Act were to be amended to make its accounts individual retirement accounts, the Act would survive ERISA preemption under New York State Conference of Blue Cross & Blue Shield Plans v. Travelers Insurance Co., 514 U.S. 645 (1995), though not under Shaw v. Delta Air Lines, Inc., 463 U.S. 85 (1983). Since Travelers is the Court’s more recent and more compelling construction of ERISA preemption, the Act should survive ERISA preemption if the Act is amended to have true individual retirement accounts.
A final section addresses the choices other state legislatures (as well as Congress) confront if they elect to follow part or all of the path on which California has embarked to encourage private retirement savings. President Obama has recently proposed a federal mandate under which employers with more than ten employees would be required to maintain either retirement plans or IRA coverage. The President’s proposal ensures public debate about the appropriate function of government in encouraging retirement savings. The Golden State’s Act will play an important role in that debate. In that debate, I favor state-by-state experimentation rather than any single approach to the task of encouraging greater retirement savings.
Keywords: California, California Secure Choice Retirement Savings Trust Act, retirement, IRA, Roth IRA, payroll deduction savings,401(k), cash balance, ERISA, preemption, Shaw, Travelers
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