Retirement savings bill passes the General Assembly

Illinois is facing a looming retirement crisis. Half of Illinois’ private sector workers — 2.5 million people — lack access to employer sponsored retirement plans. Researchers estimate that nationally our retirement savings deficit is between $6.8 and $14 trillion.

Yes, trillion.

This is a huge crisis, approaching us with terrifying speed. If we don’t do something about it, we’ll be facing an epidemic of seniors living in poverty, with horrific human consequences, not to mention huge costs to government.

Fortunately, there are commonsense ways to address this. That’s why I spent the last two years working to pass the Secure Choice Retirement Savings Program in Illinois. It creates an automatic enrollment IRA so that workers without employer sponsored retirement plans still have an easy way to save for retirement using a payroll deduction and benefiting from low fees.

It’s such a sensible idea that in 2008, both Senator Obama and Senator McCain included it in their campaign platforms. In fact, it’s literally difficult to find a policy analyst or economist who doesn’t support this plan.

Unfortunately, it’s very easy to find special interest groups who are willing to fight this idea tooth and nail, which is why no other state has fully enacted a program like this — nor, of course, has the U.S. Congress.

Here in Illinois, though, we didn’t let that deter us. Working with an amazing team of advocates for low wage workers, labor leaders, and policy wonks, I spent countless hours talking with my Senate colleagues — explaining the problem, describing the solution, addressing questions, responding to concerns. On April 9, we were rewarded: the bill passed the Senate (with no votes to spare!).

A House committee then passed the bill on a bipartisan 7-2 vote, but unfortunately we ran out of time and weren’t able to round up enough support to pass the bill out of the House before the end of our spring legislative session.

We were disappointed, but undeterred.

During the summer recess, most legislative activity grinds to a halt, but our dedicated team didn’t rest. We traveled across the state meeting with legislators, holding public meetings, and discussing the policy with the media.

Finally, during the final week of the fall veto session, we were rewarded — the bill passed the House with 67 votes (seven to spare!) on December 2nd, and then finally passed the Senate again with 30 votes (none to spare!) on December 3rd. It’s now heading to Governor Quinn’s desk, and he’s already told me how excited he is to sign it.

It’s been a joy and an honor to work on this project, and especially to work on it with so many dedicated, passionate, tenacious advocates. Literally millions of Illinois workers will now have a better shot at a dignified, secure retirement.

This process has reminded me that with patience and persistence, we can make the world a better place and improve lives. I feel incredibly fortunate to hold a position in the State Senate that allows me to try to do that every day, and I promise to do the best I can to live up to that possibility.

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