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February 28, 2018     The Julian News
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February 28, 2018

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The Julian News 11 California Commentary Why Does California’s Secure Choice Program Still Exist? by Jon Coupal February 28, 2018 * * * Jon Coupal is the president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association. ® 2018 King Features Syndicate, Inc. ® 2018 King Features Syndicate, Inc. California’s planned “Secure Choice” program, if implemented, would violate federal law. So why are we needlessly spending public tax dollars on its startup costs? The concept of the program seems harmless enough: A voluntary program — at least for now — that would enroll private- sector employees who currently don’t have a retirement plan into a state-run retirement savings account. But as with any government program, the first question is why is this program even needed? Private-sector employees pay into the Social Security system and, upon reaching retirement age, draw benefits from it. While some have argued that Social Security benefits are inadequate, the program is nonetheless backed by the full faith and credit of the federal government. Moreover, under federal law, there are many programs to assist private-sector workers whose employers don’t offer 401(k) or other employer- based plans. These include individual retirement accounts, both traditional and Roth IRAs. For workers without an employer retirement plan, there are generous limits on how much can be saved tax-deferred. Secure Choice is a solution in search of a problem. Given all the existing retirement programs authorized under federal law and managed by private investment firms, the only reason to adopt a massive new government program is so that government can control yet another part of the economy currently being serviced by the private sector. Progressives truly believe that government can do it better. But better than what? The California Public Employees’ Retirement System and other public employee retirement funds are carrying unfunded liabilities in the hundreds of billions of dollars. Then there is the cost to taxpayers. While the program is ostensibly voluntary, the startup costs of the program are huge. For fiscal 2017-18, the Secure Choice program has requested a $170 million general fund loan for staff, external consultants, overhead costs and related expenses. Speaking of “choice,” it’s too bad taxpayers didn’t have a choice in seeing their dollars spent on this questionable program. Finally, there is the risk to taxpayers in the event Secure Choice goes bankrupt. Defenders claim that this can’t happen, but remember that officials in Stockton, Vallejo and San Bernardino once said the same thing. From the beginning, the legality of Secure Choice, and similar programs in mostly liberal states, has been questioned because it is inconsistent with a federal law known as the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974. ERISA imposes requirements for retirement plans in the private sector. Because the Secure Choice programs appeared to be in clear violation of ERISA, those states that sought to adopt those programs received a regulatory interpretation from the Obama administration which, the states argued, granted them an exception. Forgetting for the moment the issue of whether that federal regulation was even legal (a recurring problem for much of President Obama’s regulatory efforts), it was rescinded shortly after President Trump took office. The upshot is that the weight of legal authority is that California’s Secure Choice program, if implemented, would violate federal law. Until California and other left-leaning states convince Congress to grant them an exception — something very unlikely for the foreseeable future — spending further taxpayer dollars on planning and set-up costs is a waste. California law allows taxpayers to commence legal actions, including injunctions, against government entities for waste of public funds. See, e.g. Code of Civil Procedure Section 526a. As long as California continues to spend taxpayer dollars on a program that, on its face, violates federal statute, it is vulnerable to legal challenge. In any event, don’t we have better things to spend our money on? • It was the multitalented Pierre Beaumarchais -- born in the 18th century, he was a revolutionary in both France and America as well as a watchmaker, diplomat, musician, spy, inventor, publisher and arms dealer -- who made the following sage observation: "It is not necessary to understand things in order to argue about them." • Sharks burp. Yep, even underwater. Evidently, it's how they regulate the depth at which they swim. • You've almost certainly heard people refer to the school they attended as their alma mater, but do you know where the term comes from? In Latin, "alma mater" means "bounteous mother." It was in the early 1800s that people began applying the term their beloved schools. • The skin of the African elephant, the largest land animal alive in the world today, weighs 2,000 pounds by itself. • You might be surprised to learn that the bagpipe did not originate in Scotland. This ancient instrument existed in Asia in the pre-Christian era. Those who study such things say that the Emperor Nero was a bagpiper, even performing publicly at Roman athletic events. • Those who keep track of such things say that, across the globe, there are more people who have cellphones than have toilets. • If you're like most Americans, you've probably played with a NERF ball at some point in your life. You might not realize, though, that NERF stands for Non-Expanding Recreational Foam. • Actor Tom Cruise attended 15 different schools when he was growing up. * * * Thought for the Day: "A society that presumes a norm of violence and celebrates aggression, whether in the subway, on the football field or in the conduct of its business, cannot help making celebrities of the people who would destroy it." -- Lewis H. Lapham * * * We live in a society in which spurious realities are manufactured by the media, by governments, by big corporations, by religious groups, political groups. I ask, in my writing, 'What is real?' Because unceasingly we are bombarded with pseudo realities manufactured by very sophisticated people using very sophisticated electronic mechanisms. — Philip K. Dick * * * * * * There are better ways we can transform this virulent hatred - by living our ideals, the Peace Corps, exchange students, teachers, exporting our music, poetry, blue jeans. — Helen Thomas * * * * * * The central dilemma in journalism is that you don't know what you don't know. — Bob Woodward * * *