Former Illinois Attorney General: Pension Reform “Single Most Important” Issue Facing Illinois

Illinois capitol building

Ty Fahner, president of the Civic Committee of The Commercial Club of Chicago and former Illinois attorney general, has been pushing Illinois lawmakers for months to come up with a “Plan B” for pension reform.

He contends that it’s likely the Illinois Supreme Court will overturn the state’s pension reform law. And if it does, Illinois has no contingency plan in place.

In a column in the Belleville News-Democrat, Fahner says of pension reform: “no issue of greater importance to Illinois’ future”. He writes:

What if?

It’s the single most important question that Illinois residents should be asking, and candidates for office should be answering.

Yet as Election Day approaches, too few are asking about the most critical issue facing the state.

What if the Illinois Supreme Court rejects pension reform?

Illinois needs an open and honest conversation about the potential impact this decision could have on the state and its citizens. Regardless of the outcome, the consequences are far-reaching and voters deserve to know whats at stake.

This is about what is good for the state and its future. Illinois needs to be in a position to grow its economy, create jobs for Illinois residents, invest in education and infrastructure and provide for the most vulnerable among us. The pension law decision will have a sweeping impact that will touch every Illinois resident in one way or another.

Illinois can no longer kick the can down the road. Half measures will not suffice. We need to address these issues now. Even if the law is upheld, we are still lagging virtually every state in the nation. All of the answers to these questions will take time to develop, win approval from the General Assembly and implement. Many of the social services already have been cut to the bone and educational funding reduced by $2.7 billion since 2009 — what is the plan?

[…]

With the future of pension reform hanging in the balance, now is the time to ask the question.

What if?

No issue is of greater importance to Illinois’ future.

And if the Supreme Court does reject the state’s pension reform law, Fahner writes:

If the court rejects the law, $145 billion in state contributions is immediately added to the taxpayer tab over the next 30 years. Whether through even more tax hikes or continued service cuts, that money has to be accounted for. We would pay a lot more for a lot less in return.

Property taxes could rise to the highest in the nation. School districts could face further budget strain. Tens of thousands of seniors, children and mentally ill could face significant reductions, if not loss, of the state assistance on which they rely. The security of the pension systems themselves would be jeopardized.

Illinois needs this conversation. The sad truth is that all of the state”s biggest problems are directly tied to the pension crisis, which has already resulted in paralyzing tax hikes, steep cuts to social services, unreasonable burdens on students and the loss of jobs to neighboring states. Already, Illinois ranks last or near last among the states on every economic indicator from unemployment, to property taxes, to jobs climate and state support for education.

Read the entire column here.

Video: CFO of Canada’s 2nd Largest Pension Asset Manager Talks Investment Strategy

 

Here’s a 24-minute talk with Maarika Paul, chief financial officer at Caisse de Depot et Placement du Québec, Canada’s second-largest pension fund.

Paul touches on infrastructure, e-commerce and real estate investing, as well as investing in Europe.

The video was taken at the Bloomberg Canadian Fixed Income Conference in New York.

CalSTRS Doubles Down On Clean Energy Investments

smoke stack

At least one pension fund is seeing the potential for “green” (read: big money) in clean energy investments.

CalSTRS announced plans to significantly ramp up investments in the “green” sector from $1.4 billion to $3.7 billion over the next 5 years. AP reports:

CalSTRS CEO Jack Ehnes says the pension fund is seeing more opportunities in low-carbon projects and technologies. The fund is hoping also to help push for stronger policies aimed at fighting climate change, Ehnes says.

If policies are adopted that impose a price on carbon emissions to discourage pollution, the fund could increase its investments further, to $9.5 billion.

The fund has a $188 billion portfolio.

The clean energy and technology investments will be made through holdings in private equity firms, bonds, and infrastructure as suitable investments come available, the fund says.

The move comes on the heels of calls in recent years for pension funds to divest from fossil-fuel dependent investments. From the Financial Times:

At least 25 cities in the US have passed resolutions calling on pension fund boards to divest from fossil fuel holdings, according to figures from 350.org, a group that campaigns for investors to ditch their fossil fuel stocks.

Three Californian cities, Richmond, Berkeley and Oakland, urged Calpers, one of the largest US pension schemes, with $288bn of assets, and which manages their funds, to divest from fossil fuels. Calpers has ignored their request.

Calpers said: “The issue has been brought to our attention. [We] believe engagement is the best course of action.

No pension funds have yet divested from fossil fuel-dependent investments for social reasons, including CalSTRS.

But you can expect pension funds to go where they think the money is; in the case of CalSTRS, they are seeing “green” in clean energy going forward.

 

Photo: Paul Falardeau via Flickr CC License

Denmark Funds Ramp Up Alternative Investments

Scrabble letters spelling out RETURN ON INVESTMENT

New government rules have led to a transformation in the asset allocation of Danish pension funds. Among the changes: more investments in alternatives. Reported by Reuters:

Pension funds in Denmark have had to gradually adapt to new solvency rules introduced by the Danish Financial Services Authority (FSA) since 2007, leading them to drop guarantees and take on more risk by investing in higher-yielding “alternative” assets, such as infrastructure projects, real estate and private equity funds.

Denmark’s top pension funds had on average invested 7 percent of their assets in alternative investments, excluding properties, by the end of 2012, the latest for which the Danish Financial Services Authority (FSA) has data for.

Out of the 152 billion Danish crowns ($26.4 billion) that the top funds had invested in alternative assets by end-2012, 59 billion crowns were in private equity funds, 44 billion in credit, 20 billion in infrastructure, 16 billion in agriculture and 13 billion in hedge funds.

As noted above, the average Denmark fund held 7 percent of their assets in alternatives in 2012.

The average U.S. fund holds 6.5 percent of its assets in alternatives, according to 2009 data from the Public Plans Database.


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