Voters in Five States Take Up Pension Investment Issues

November 10, 2008 ( - Spooked by dramatic declines in the stock market and the prospect of injecting more risk into state investment practices, voters in five states voted down an assortment of state constitutional amendments related to investment practices in the November 4 election.

Voters in Louisiana, Montana, South Carolina, South Dakota, and Utah voiced their opinions on topics ranging from a ban on short-selling (South Dakota) to allowing state school funds to invest in the stock market (Utah).  

Here is a list of the five states which addressed constitutional amendments on investment-related issues for pension funds, and how the voters decided November 4.

voters decided against allowing state and local governments to invest in the stock market with money from public-employee retirement health care and life insurance funds. Amendment No. 7 lost 56% to 44% after it was passed in both the Louisiana House and Senate. The amendment would have allowed state and local governments to invest post-employment benefit money, other than pensions, in equities.

South Carolina


With about 80% of precincts reporting, South Carolina voters rejected two constitutional amendments which would have allowed both state and local pension funds to invest in stocks to fund health-related benefits.   Voters rejected Amendment 2 which sought to allow state pension funds to invest in stocks to pay for future retirees’ health care and other benefits. The state retirement system is invested in stocks, domestic and international.   The amendments were   put on the ballot to comply with new federal regulations requiring governments to have sufficient funds to pay the benefits of all employees at one time, even if the state workers are years away from retiring.   Earlier, some local governments in South Carolina had warned they might have to raise taxes or cut spending to comply with the new law.  

A second amendment sought permission for city and county governments to invest post-employment benefits in new ways. This amendment applied to local governments, while Amendment 2 applies to state government.   A local newspaper report said that “national financial woes and the Wall Street bailout are likely to have some voters nervous about investing state funds in stocks.” The voters apparently agreed.

South Dakota


South Dakota voters voted against eliminating short-selling and a clause that would have prevented investors from taking more than three business days to deliver stock they had sold.   The measure was defeated 57% to 43%.   While one local newspaper said “there’s no agreement on what this measure actually does,” it was advanced by the state’s attorney general.   Critics contended the attorney general had misinterpreted the proposal. A local paper said the ban was not needed since federal agencies can control short-selling, so the entire measure was unnecessary.   The paper’s editorial board recommended voting against the measure.  

Despite strong endorsements, Utah voters beat back an amendment which would have allowed the state treasurer to invest money from Utah's permanent school fund in venture capital or private-company equities. A local newspaper noted that "this would enable the state and its schoolchildren to benefit from a more diversified investment portfolio and earn higher returns. The Prudent Investor Rule and an Investment Advisory Board would limit risks."

The vote was 56% no and 43% yes.   The paper noted that while the timing of this vote was "unfortunate" due to the declining stock market, "this is not a radical idea. Private trust funds regularly include a small portfolio of such investments, and the state's portfolio would be small, as well. In addition, the state provides plenty of oversight to prevent abuses. The school fund already generates millions for Utah schools each year, relieving taxpayers of some of that burden."  The permanent school trust fund has increased over the past 20 years from $18 million to almost $1 billion today.

Currently about 7% of state retirement funds are invested in private-company equities, which have earned a 19% return over the past 15 years.

Earlier, the amendment was approved unanimously byboth houses of the Utah Legislature, endorsed by Utah Governor. Jon Huntsman, and supported of the Constitutional Revision Commission; State Treasurer,; the state Investment Advisory Committee, the State Board of Education; the School Children's Trust; and the Trust Lands Advisory.

Voters in Montana defeated Constitutional Amendment 44 which would have allowed up to 25% of certain public funds to be invested in private corporate capital stock.   The amendment was defeated: 2,997 for and 9,969 against.