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Capitol Alert

Kevin de León exploring options to protect private retirement program

By Christopher Cadelago

February 09, 2017 02:58 PM

California Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León said he’s exploring all options – including a potential statewide ballot measure – to protect a landmark effort to enroll millions of private-sector workers without retirement plans in state-run investment accounts.

“If we continue to deny working Californians an opportunity to save so they can retire with some dignity that could be a potential option – to let the people vote,” de León said in an interview at his Capitol office on Thursday.

The Secure Choice program is under threat from the Republican-controlled Congress, which is considering a resolution to torpedo federal Labor Department regulations. That could fuel legal challenges to state programs like the one in California, and thwart future moves to enact the benefit in other states.

Despite putting himself on the front lines in California’s resistance effort, De León said he doesn’t think Republicans, including House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield, are singling him out personally by targeting a program he helped nurture.

Leading up to his bill’s passage, de León raised about $1 million from private-sector donors to complete a feasibility study. He also traveled to Washington to consult with former U.S. Secretaries of Labor Hilda Solis and Thomas Perez to obtain the necessary Obama administration regulations.

Earlier this week, de León and Republican Sen. Anthony Cannella of Ceres sent a letter to McCarthy in support of the program, attaching a variety of laudatory newspaper editorials from the Merced Sun-Star to The New York Times.

“I don’t believe it’s Kevin McCarthy purposefully going out of his way to undermine and deep six Secure Choice. Whether he stands up for it in Congress, that’s another thing we will eventually see,” de León said. “I think that Wall Street interests have been gunning for (the program) for quite some time and they found a golden opportunity to do so now with the Trump administration.”

Christopher Cadelago: 916-326-5538, @ccadelago