Editorial: Changing state investment structure should save money

Published Mar 6, 2014 at 12:01AM

We don’t often support the creation of new state agencies, but the one that would be created by House Bill 4144 is different. In this final week of the Legislature’s 2014 session, it should be approved.

The bill would make the Oregon Investment Council — now a part of the treasurer’s office that invests all state funds, including Public Employee Retirement System and State Accident Insurance Fund — an independent state agency. The treasurer’s investment division would move to the new agency, and the council would take over many investment oversight and risk management duties that currently are handled by third-party contractors. Finally, the council would take over management of a portion of its multibillion-dollar investment portfolio.

The changes would do a variety of things, not the least of which is save PERS and SAIF money they now must spend on fees for contractors. Current estimates are that PERS alone would save $2.8 billion over the next 20 years.

The plan would put at least some distance between the politics of lawmaking and the arcane business of investing, with an eye toward both safety and return. Politics and investing do not mix well, generally, and the new distance is valuable to everyone who has a PERS retirement account.

Meanwhile, state Treasurer Ted Wheeler acknowledges that the change would diminish his power somewhat, because the investment staff would be responsible not just to the treasurer but to the council as a whole. That’s important, Wheeler notes, because the council members are and would remain personally responsible for any breach of fiduciary duty.

Another issue in the legislation also involves the role of the treasurer. What should the treasurer’s position be on the investment council?

We believe the treasurer should be chairman. Having an elected official in the position gives voters a means to hold the council more accountable.

Lawmakers have until Sunday to complete action on the bill. It’s a deadline they should meet.