After slow start, Cuomo retirement commission gets moving

Director of the New York state budget division, Mary Beth Labate. | AP Photo/Mike Groll

By JIMMY VIELKIND 08/19/16 05:15 AM EDT

ALBANY — A state commission to tackle retirement security plans to hold its first meeting next month, eight months after Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the commission during his State of the State speech.
The SMART Commission was supposed to be led by former state comptroller Carl McCall, but he resigned from the nascent effort at the end of May. McCall explained he was resigning because more of his attention was needed at SUNY, whose board he chairs, as it searches for a successor to outgoing chancellor Nancy Zimpher.

In his place, the Cuomo administration installed Mary Beth Labate, a top SUNY official who spent a year leading the state’s Division of the Budget. Dani Lever, an administration spokeswoman, said the commission would receive support from SUNY’s Rockefeller Institute of Government.
“All members have been named,” said Dani Lever, an administration spokeswoman. “The commission is aiming to have its first meeting in the second week in September.”
The Democratic governor announced the SMART Commission in a simultaneously prominent but little-noticed way: it is described on page 212 of the 509 page book distributed during his January speech.
“Approximately 3.5 million private sector workers aged 18 to 64 in New York lack access to an employer sponsored retirement savings program,” the book states. “Many of these workers face delayed retirements and reduced standards of living, and will be forced to rely on the state’s taxpayer-funded social safety net.”
The SMART Commission — which stands for “Saving More to Achieve Richer Tomorrows” — will, according to the book, “partner with state agencies, financial services professionals, consumer advocates, and academics to study available options for the creation of a state-administered retirement savings program for workers whose employers do not offer a retirement plan.”

In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio is hoping to create a city-run program that would let employees without access to a 401(k) or similar retirement program save money. But his effort, as well as the state’s, is dependent on the federal government announcing new regulations that would pave the way for such programs.
Lever said the state was waiting for those regulations, which should come early next month.
Bill Samuels, a Democratic activist and leader of the group EffectiveNY, has been pushing both the state and city to take action. He said the issue is becoming more critical, and hopes New York will join California and Oregon in establishing plans.

“This is a big problem and it affects a huge percentage of our workers,” he said. “We need a state program and we need a carve out for the city.”
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