Ohio Lawmakers Drafting Pension Reform Bill

September 18, 2003 (PLANPSONSOR.com) - Ohio legislators have announced that a reform bill is in the works that would ultimately subject the state's public employee pension funds to more ethical, legal, and financial scrutiny.

While many of the details are still being hammered out, legislators said their goal is to have a bill approved in the next month.   “Our immediate concern is to restore the integrity of the systems,” said State Senator Lynn Wachtmann, who will manage the Senate bill. “We have $107 billion in assets. That’s a lot at stake,” Wachtmann said, according to a Cleveland Plain Dealer report.

Possible provisions of the bill include:

  • authorizing the Ohio Retirement Study Council –a legislative oversight committee –to hire a criminal investigator to examine spending at the five funds
  • require the filing of financial disclosure statements with the Ohio Ethics Commission for all pension board members and certain staff members
  • require regular performance audits of each retirement system
  • ethics and travel policies for all five public employee funds
  • provisions to remove pension board members who misspend money
  • give retirees more representation through a change in the composition of several fund boards.

Ohio Gang-Up

The move by lawmakers to introduce reform bills came after questions were raised earlier in the year about the spending practices at the State Teachers Retirement System (STRS).   Among the alleged excessive expenses incurred by the fund were:

  • a $94.2-million office building adorned with $869,000 in artwork
  • generous fringe benefits for STRS employees
  • frequent out-of-state travel for pension board members
  • $14 million in employee bonuses.

At the time, then- STRS Executive Director Herb Dyer said the pension board was trying to recruit and keep good investment staff in a competitive profession that pays well and offers good benefits. “I appreciate that people who don’t do that kind of work for a living might not understand it, but that’s the reality of the professionalism involved,” said Dyer (See Ohio Pension Fund Hit for Lavish Spending Practices) .

However, while the board was paying for these expenses over that time, the system’s investments plummeted by $12.3 billion and health-care contributions by retirees jumped significantly.   The ensuing public outcry caused a major shakeup at the board that included the suspension of employee bonuses, limits placed on travel by board members and ultimately cost Dyer his job (See  Dyer Steps Down From Ohio STRS Post ).