Introducing CALSavers Your State Run Retirement Plan

The Chief explores another socialist step in the cradle-to-grave care provided by the almighty state of California.

In case you missed it, a new retirement program goes live in California starting July 1st. This plan was put in place because the state wants businesses who don’t offer a retirement plan to be forced to offer them. It’s very easy to enroll, actually you are automatically enrolled, unless you opt out. Starting next year, any business with over 100 employees is required to enroll, the following year, the employee number drops to 50, then by 2022, the employee threshold drops to 5.

Details on the actual program are tough to glean, so I called the Employment Development Department (EDD) and they could not answer my questions. Seriously if you want bruises on your brain by all means call them. The State Treasurer’s Office (STO) did provide some color, but not any direct answers. In fairness I totally threw him off his game, after he called me back and said a long spiel which sounded like Latin or some other generally accepted language in California. When he came up for a breath, I told him, “Sir, this is an Arby’s.” He was shaken. I continued to dig for answers, to which this guy either 1) didn’t know or 2) would get back to me about.

From what I could find out online, it looks like if you do nothing that you “opt in” resulting in 5% of your paycheck being remitted to the State and deposited in this retirement plan. The 5% increases by 1% each year until you reach 8%. Anyone can “opt out” or “opt back in” anytime. Such fluid policies seem like a strange hybrid model and an HR nightmare for a small business. If you opt in and don’t put an income level in the program it defaults to 30k a year, so if you make less than that you will be “feeling the Bern” on your paycheck. Something tells me that the paperwork won’t get corrected quickly nor will they “refund” the overage. Account changes are made with the state via internet or snail mail not your HR person so how does this state program communicate with employer to coordinate withholding amounts remain correct?

The account is an after-tax investment i.e. Roth IRA. It appears you have the choice of a mutual fund or a money market fund to deposit your money into. Investing in a money market fund makes little to no sense as they only provide about 1% interest a year. Fees run about 1% a year as well effectively destroying and rate of return on that account. The whole thing reeks of being a Ponzi scheme……

Well, actually it is.

The program was started with a loan (interest to be paid back) from both the SEIU and the CTA, two of the most powerful unions in California.

Two large public employee unions, the California Teachers and the SEIU, each contributed $100,000. Public employee unions played a major role in a national drive to create state-run savings plans for the private sector.

Public unions think improving private-sector retirement can help counter pressure to cut government pensions or, following the corporate trend, switch to 401(k)-style individual investment plans that create no long-term debt for employers.

The nine-member CalSavers board has looked at a public union-backed “pooled IRA” that could gradually, by diverting some of the investment yield in good years, build a reserve large enough to replace some of the losses in a bad year.

State-run retirement savings plan ready to launch

So, the “savers” will have to pay a fee to participate and must be enrolled automatically, or employers will be fined $750 per employee. So now an employer must complete all applicable forms for a new hire, and have them complete this paperwork? This is unfair. No wonder businesses are fleeing the state. Think of the food service industry or a minimum wage jobs where they turnover employees constantly. Another curve ball here, what if the employee doesn’t have a bank account and receives a paper check? What if the employee gets terminated and you fail to let “CalSavers” know? Do the deductions continue? Those fees are ridiculous and are literally just redistributing wealth to current retirees. For example, Vanguard offers accounts for literally a fraction of the fees. The “redistribution” I speak of is just a new way to keep current pension retirees happy. Keep this in mind, older folks (social security/pension recipient) vote in very large numbers, and it would spell the end for many a political career should said pension check bounce. Make no mistake about it, the SEIU and CTA could care less about any non-union member, they want their own taken care of first, and everyone else is a sucker and they are out of luck.

How would this plan even be enforced? The Treasurer’s Office representative said the state has a data base on all eligible business…. where? Even the Secretary of State’s Office can’t possibly have every business on record! Even if they did, how can they screen based on how many employees you have? Is their info really up to the minute? How can that be verified? This would be a nightmare to enforce!

Which parlays into my next point, the real point of this program is to create a brand-new layer of government workers, and a separate group of folks 100% dependent on government. While this may just be a pilot program initially, it will eventually expand to include 7.5 million workers in California… Why is what you may ask?

Low income citizens will opt out of said program (think about it $13 an hour with 8% of pretax paycheck deducted) doesn’t leave much room for food each month. Actually, it amounts to a salary cut…with rising fuel, food and housing costs retirement won’t be an option.

As a result, they will want to lure people like me into this scheme. If you earn around 80k that’s $6,400 a year that goes under state run control each year. By opting out and staying at Vanguard they lose out on that “revenue.” Trust us folks, there is a plan for this, and eventually I will be forced into the account or assessed a penalty for opting out.

As I consider this, I can think of many other questions. What if you leave the state while still working age? Can you roll it into another private account? Or is it heavily penalized and forced to remain in CA? I feel this will become a defined benefit scheme similar to current pension funds used by our state workers, where they are “funded” until they aren’t anymore and the last ones in are wiped out. What makes me skeptical is that the program was known as “Secure Choice retirement investing” prior to a name change. Is it just me or is using the word “secure” in regards to retirement plans just inviting a major lawsuit?

In addition, how does shareholder voting work? Obviously, these funds are going to hold a bunch of companies (more on this in a minute) and as a shareholder you have a right to vote but I don’t see this being allowed. Is Big Brother casting shareholder votes on my behalf so they can steer the market in a way more in line with their political ideology? What companies are being invested in? Something tells me Phillip Morris, Raytheon, Pepsico and other “sin/bad for you companies” will be passed over. Want to take bets Tesla, and other “green” startups will be preferred? Politics over investment return is part of the governing documents of this scheme.

ESG/Socially Responsible Investments: Responsible social, environmental, and governance investing is an issue important to some Participants, and an Investment Option reflecting that belief should be offered.


I noticed a bond fund is available, I assume any state with policies/laws we don’t agree with here in CA will be passed over in favor of CA junk bonds! This is just a new way to put a hand on the scale to get a desired outcome, no question it bothers some in this state Tesla is literally going up in smoke. Or is this a way to load up on company stock and push for policy changes? If this program goes the way of MYRA at the federal level what happens to the government workers? I have a feeling they won’t be laid off just folded into an existing bureaucracy.

Worst of all workers will be screwed. You will find yourself laid off and working the same job as an independent contractor or a “temporary staffing worker.” All in the name of your employer avoiding this new program.

You have been warned…..

“The Chief”