This thorough review of the $8.2 million in bonuses earned this year by 54 members of the investment management team for the $100 billion fund is also a stark reminder that taxpayer-supported retirement funds are supported by complex investments that carry with them risk and not piggy banks filled with the nickels and dimes of thrifty state employees.
In the middle of a tepid economy and state budget negotiations that will almost certainly cost teachers their jobs, retirement fund managers are playing a furious game of catch-up from a 2008 market crash that saw the value of the fund portfolio drop $23.3 billion.
In 2008 and 2009, according to the weekend story, top managers earned $6.5 million in bonuses for exceeding investment targets, but deferred payment because the fund operated at a loss. Restored to profitability in 2010, managers earned another $1.7 million in bonuses, and the $8.2 million total was paid out in January.
And at least the public knows which investment manager got which bonus. Texas Watchdog has tried without success to get the state to divulge to taxpayers to whom they are paying pensions and in what amounts.
R. David Kelly, chairman of the Teacher Retirement System board, told the Morning News that for the state retirement fund to compete in the investment world it must be managed by talent. Talent must be compensated or it will go someplace else.
“If we don’t pay out incentive compensation when you had clearly superlative performance, it sends a bad message, and it causes people to ask just how big a discount are they willing to work for,” Kelly said.
If this is, indeed, the reality, Tim Lee, executive director of the Texas Retired Teachers Association, says his members don’t like it much. The state’s 300,000 retired educators have not had a pension increase in 10 years.
Sen. Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler, would like to end the incentive program. “You can hire fund managers and people right now in this environment, pay them good salaries, be competitive with the private sector, and I do not think it’s a requirement in this environment to pay incentive for these fund managers,” he said.
Vicki Truitt, R-Keller, chairwoman of the House Pensions and Investments Committee, said the bonuses were necessary as incentives to erase that nearly 20 percent gap between the assets the fund has on hand and what it owes its retirees over the next 30 years. In the parlance of the certified public accountant, actuarial soundness.
“We want the best advice we can get and to ensure the best returns for our investments,” Truitt said. “You get what you pay for.”
Contact Mark Lisheron at 512-299-2318 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Keep up with all the latest news from Texas Watchdog. Fan our page on Facebook, follow us on Twitter and Scribd, and fan us on YouTube. Join our network on de.licio.us, and put our RSS feeds in your newsreader. We're also on MySpace, Digg, FriendFeed, and tumblr.
Photo of money by flickr user athrasher, used via a Creative Commons license.