By Michael Dresser
The top leaders of the General Assembly launched a new legislative effort to establish retirement security plans for more than a million Marylanders who would otherwise rely entirely on Social Security in their old age.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller and House Speaker Michael E. Busch announced the formation of a Commission on Maryland Retirement Security and Savings at a State House news conference attended by U.S. Secretary of Labor Tom Perez.
Perez has been traveling the country on behalf of President Obama to promote the creation at the state level of workplace savings accounts in which employees would be automatically enrolled but would have the right to bow out of participation. The labor chief said workers who are auto-enrolled in such plans are about 15 times more likely to build up retirement savings than those who are not.
“This is the wave of the future,” said Perez.
He predicted that within five years, 15-20 states will have adopted such plans.
Obama’s efforts to promote such plans at the federal level have been thwarted by Republicans in Congress, Perez said.
The new commission will build on the work of a panel formed under the O’Malley administration and headed by Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend. Lawmakers said the new task force will seek to develop specific proposals to implement the broader principles laid down by the previous panel.
Busch said the commission is a legislative initiative but added that he and Miller welcome input from the Hogan administration. Miller said Hogan’s office will monitor the task force’s work and noted that Republican lawmakers have been named to the commission, which is expected to make recommendations in time for the legislature to consider them when it meets in January.
But Hogan spokesman Doug Mayer signaled that the idea will be a hard sell in the Governor’s Office.
“Governor Hogan is very concerned about Marylanders saving for the future, which is why he fought to protect state employee pensions this past session and passed legislation easing the tax burden on our retirees,” Mayer said. “However, any measure that adds to our already bloated level of state government bureaucracy or increases the burdens on small businesses and taxpayers will be viewed with a very high level of skepticism.”
But lawmakers denied the state-promoted retirement accounts would require a vast bureaucracy or cost a lot of money. They said one of the goals of the task force is to craft a system that minimizes the administrative burden on small business.
“This is going to save the taxpayer money,” said Sen. James Rosapepe, a Prince George’s County Democrat who has championed the concept. “Now if you’re poor and old, the taxpayer takes care of this.”
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