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Wheeler backs access to retirement savings plans

About half of states considering similar legislation, which has national support.


Giving Oregonians access to retirement savings plans will be a top priority for state Treasurer Ted Wheeler in his final two years.

Wheeler led a task force, which lawmakers created in 2013, that recommended such access for the half of Oregon’s private-sector workers who currently are not covered by any plan.

“If we do not help Oregonians voluntarily save for retirement, the cost to taxpayers will be staggering down the road,” he said Tuesday at a forum.

While the Oregon Public Employees Retirement System has had projected future shortfalls between investment income and payouts to retirees, Wheeler says lawmakers have acted in the past 12 years — most recently in 2013 — to deal with them.

“We have not done anything to address shortfalls in the private sector,” he says. “This is our opportunity.”

The legislative forum was sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Oregon, American Association of University Women, Center for Women’s Leadership at Portland State University, and the National Organization for Women.

Task force recommendations will be incorporated into a bill that will be introduced in the current legislative session, which resumes Feb. 2.

Wheeler says he envisions a plan similar to an individual retirement account.

The plan would be voluntary for employees of businesses that do not sponsor their own retirement savings plan. Although the plan would be overseen by the state, it likely would be run by a private firm, akin to Oregon’s 529 College Savings Plan.

Enrollment would be automatic, but employees can choose to opt out. The plan would be financed by employee payroll deductions, without employer contributions or state liability. It also would be portable, so that workers could take it as they change jobs.

Wheeler said the legislation also would set up a study of how self-employed workers could be covered by such plans, although lawmakers would have to take further action oto include them.

Despite the voluntary nature of the proposed plans, some business groups have raised questions about the legislation.

Wheeler appeared last fall at a City Club of Portland forum with two national advocates of enrollment in retirement savings plans. One was Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, chief executive of the Center for Retirement Incentives at Georgetown University. The other was Ken Mehlman, global head of public affairs for KKR & Co., an international private equity firm.

Townsend is the eldest of the 11 children of Robert and Ethel Kennedy, was the Democratic lieutenant governor of Maryland from 1995 to 2003, and lost a bid for governor in 2002.

Mehlman managed the 2004 re-election campaign of President George W. Bush and led the Republican National Committee.

Wheeler says some workers have the ability to save for retirement, but fail to do so early enough to make a difference.

Others, he says, are unable to save because of expenses. “Those are not the people we are trying to get into retirement plans,” he says.

But Wheeler wants to reach thousands of others with the ability to save but without access to such plans.

pwong@PamplinMedia.com

(503) 385-4899

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