Lone Star State Teachers Union Battles Potential Pension Tech Investment

December 14, 2006 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - A Texas teachers union is battling a proposal by Governor Rick Perry to put as much as $600 million of teachers' pension assets into an incubator group that aims to bring technology firms to the Lone Star state.

As part of its lobbying campaign, the Texas Federation of Teachers (TFT) has posted an online plea  for teachers to write to state officials opposing the pension investment proposal. The TFT is also expected to have representatives at a meeting of the board of the Texas Teacher Retirement System (TRS) Thursday and Friday during which the issue is scheduled for discussion .

Perry wants to allow the pension plan to join the governor’s Emerging Technology Fund to make investment capital available to  Texas companies entering the high-tech marketplace. Perry persuaded the legislature to establish the Emerging Technology Fund in 2005 and to allocate $200 million to the fund that could be awarded to qualified companies.

“They should not gamble with the money they are charged with protecting not only for the retired teachers of this state, but for all of those active teachers who are contributing to the fund with every paycheck,” TFT president Linda Bridges told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, according to its news report.

A staff memo prepared for the board said the Emerging Technology Fund would make sure that public money is invested only in companies with the greatest chance to succeed, the Star-Telegram said. However, the memo also warned that only a fraction of these companies realize profits early in their development.

“The historical returns for venture capital investments possess substantial volatility,” the memo stated, according to the news report. “It is not uncommon for an early-stage venture capital fund to have nine losses for every one home run investment.”

Richard Kouri, public-affairs director for the Texas State Teachers Association, told the newspaper that he is concerned that the retirement system might be transformed into a cash cow to help fund one of Perry’s pet programs. “The bottom line for us is, we don’t want TRS to be used to advance a political agenda by any governor,” Kouri said.

However, Perry spokesman Robert Black said the governor supports allowing the board to decide whether it wants to invest in emerging technology companies, but Perry would not call the shots. “The only thing the governor has been saying is that this option should be on the table for TRS,” Black said. “The Emerging Technology Fund is a vehicle that will bring jobs to  Texas, and if TRS wants to help in that effort – great.”