Change sought in who oversees state pension funds

Nov 7, 2009

Shannon Colavecchio

Miami Herald

TALLAHASSEE -- State Sen. Dan Gelber says the proposed anticorruption package he unveiled earlier this week is more vital than ever in light of the Securities and Exchange Commission's investigation of possible fraud by the board that oversees the state pension fund.

The package by Gelber, D-Miami Beach, would remove the attorney general from the State Board of Administration, which now consists of the governor, attorney general and chief financial officer. Gelber says the attorney general should have ``more arm's length oversight'' that will lead to prosecuting wrongdoing if needed.

``Floridians should expect their attorney general to be scrutinizing their pension fund and protecting them from wrongdoing,'' said Gelber, who is vying to be Florida's next attorney general.

His proposal would replace the attorney general with the commissioner of agriculture.

The federal investigation, confirmed this week, centers on whether the state and three Wall Street firms -- JPMorgan Chase, Credit Suisse and the now-defunct Lehman Brothers -- misled the public about the risk and liquidity of some of the SBA's investments.

The investment fund holds more than $130 billion, including retirement savings for more than 1 million Floridians. The board also manages the Local Government Investment Pool for cities and counties throughout the state.

CFO Alex Sink has been advocating for changes in the board since taking office, and more urgently over the past year as the pension fund fell to a low of $87 billion and questions rose over its management.

She wants to expand membership to add at least one person with financial expertise and one person who participates in the pension fund. Also, under her proposal, all trustees would get financial training and there would be regular external audits of the pension's management and performance.

The proposal got a lukewarm reception from Attorney General Bill McCollum and Gov. Charlie Crist when she unveiled it at a September Cabinet meeting.

A recent survey of 15 other states' funds found that Florida is unique in its small governance structure, especially considering it has one of the nation's largest pension funds.

Also, the survey found Florida is the only state whose governor and attorney general help oversee the fund. Some ethics watchdogs say the attorney general's service on the board is a potential conflict.

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