Riley: Amateur Hour in Providence Pensions
Tuesday, September 01, 2015
Mayor Elorza trumpeted the fact that the plan was being paid “early” (lol). In Elorza speak that means 14 months late. So proud were they that they put the money to the pension plan “early” so it could be invested, that they actually forgot to tell their adviser Wainwright Investment Counsel about the $35 million and they forgot to immediately convene a meeting in order to allocate the cash for investment. Calling a meeting and setting a plan would have been appropriate behavior. But that’s not what happened with Providence retirees funds. This lack of communication between Mayor, the Commission and adviser rests squarely on Mayor Elorza. Instead of putting a plan together to invest the $35 million and take advantage of opportunities. Mr. Elorza and the Commission gave no instructions to the adviser as to how or when to invest. They called no meetings. They did nothing.
Below is the hour by hour price change of the S&P 500 last week while Providence sat on $35 million in cash.
On Monday morning August 24, Providence had the opportunity of a lifetime. Finally they had the cash to employ after years of the city illegally borrowing from the pension fund and paying a year late. They had $35 million in cash when the S&P 500 was plummeting. Finally, a chance to buy at great prices down 20% from recent highs with the index near 1800 on Monday morning Aug 24 just a week ago. When the smoke cleared by Friday the index was back all the way back to 2000. Did we catch the low? Did we buy some equities on the way down? How much did we make?
They bought nothing. The greatest opportunity in the last 6 years and the Mayor was asleep at the wheel. This is why Mayor Elorza should have nothing to do with managing the assets of the pension plan. His job should be to properly fund the pension plan in a timely way, not 14 or 16 months late. He should have less focus on fire-shifts, Davey lopes pool and streetcars and pay more attention to the retirement funds of his citizens. The Providence Pension plan is a joke and is managed by amateurs and the State of Rhode Island needs to take it over. Additionally, I repeat my call that the SEC needs to investigate Providence Pension Plan their unusual accounting for possible Fraud and the purposeful misleading of municipal bond holders. The accountants and elected leaders should go to jail for misleading Bondholders. But the board shouldn’t go to jail for the missed $ 5 million dollar opportunity of last Monday. However, the Investment Commission and the Mayor should be severely second guessed for not having a plan at all to invest the $35 million. As fiduciaries they have been negligent.
Related Slideshow: Timeline - Rhode Island Pension Reform
GoLocalProv breaks down the sequence of events that have played out during Rhode Island's State Employee Pension Fund reform.
Governor Don Carcieri makes pension reform a top priority in his emergency budget plan. His three-point plan included:
1. An established minimum retirment age of 59 for all state and municipal employees.
2. Elimination of cost-of-living increases.
3. Conversion of new hires into a 401(k) style plan.
See WPRI's coverage of Carcieri's proposal here.
Rhode Island's state administered public employee pension system only held 48% of the assets to cover future payments to its emplyees.
"This system as designed today is fundamentally unsustainable, and it is in your best interest to fix it" - Gina Raimondo
Check out Wall Street Journal's coverage here.
Gina Raimondo defeats opponent Kernan King in the election for General Treasurer of Rhode Island using her platform to reform the structure of Rhode Island's public employee pension system. She received 201,625 votes, more than any other politician on the 2010 Rhode Island ballot.
Raimondo leads effort to reduce the state’s assumed rate of return on pension investments from 8.25 to 7.5%.
Her proposal includes plans to suspend the Cost of Living Adjustment (which allows for raises corresponding with rates of inflation for retirees), changing the retirement age to match Social Security ages, and adding a defined contribution plan.
Raimondo releases “Truth in Numbers”, a report detailing the pension crisis and offering possible solutions. She continues to work to raise public support for her proposal.
"Decades of ignoring actuarial assumptions led to lower taxpayer & employee contributions being made into the system." - Gina Raimondo (Truth in Numbers)
Read GoLocalProv's analysis of the report here.
Read the Truth in Numbers report here.
Governor Lincoln Chafee and General Treasurer Gina Raimondo present their pension reform legislation proposal before a joint session of the General Assembly.
“Our fundamental goal throughout this process has been to provide retirement security through reforms that are fair to the three main interested parties: retirees, current employees and the taxpayer…I join the General Treasurer in urging the General Assembly to take decisive action and adopt these reforms.”- Gov. Lincoln Chafee
Head of Rhode Island firefighters’ union accuses Raimondo of “cooking the books” to create a pension problem where one did not exist. Paul Valletta Jr. states that Raimondo raised Rhode Islanders’ assumed mortality rate to increase liability to the state, using data from 1994 instead of updated information from 2008, and lowered the anticipated rate of return on state investments.
“You’re going after the retirees! In this economic time, how could you possibly take a pension away?” Paul Valletta Jr (Head of RI Firefighters' Union)
Read more from the firefighters' battle with Raimondo here.
Check out the New York Times' take on RI's pension crisis here.
November 17, 2011
The Rhode Island Retirement Security Act (RIRSA) is enacted by the General Assembly with bipartisan support in both chambers. RIRSA’s passing is slated to reduce the unfunded liability of RI’s pension system and increase its funding status by $3 billion and 60% respectively, level contributions to the pension system by taxpayers, save municipalities $100 million through lessened contributions to teacher and MERS pension systems, and lower the cost of borrowing.
Read more from GoLocalProv here.
November 18, 2011
Governor Lincoln Chafee signs RIRSA into law. According to a December 2011 Brown University poll, 60% of Rhode Island residents support the reform. Following its enactment, Raimondo holds regional sessions to educate public employees on the effects of the legislation on their retirement benefits.
Read about how Rhode Islanders react to RIRSA here.
Raimondo hosts local workshops to explain the pension reforms across Rhode Island. She also receives national attention for her contributions to the state’s pension reforms. The reforms are given praise and many believe Rhode Island will serve as a template for other States’ future pension reforms.
Read about the pension workshop here.
Read Raimondo's feature in Institutional Investor here.
March - April 2012
Raimondo opposes Governor Chafee’s proposal to cut pension-funded deposits. She continued to provide workshops on the pension reforms.
December 5, 2012
Raimondo publicly opposes Governor Chafee’s meetings with union leaders in an effort to avoid judicial rulings on the pension reform package. In response, Chafee issues a statement supporting the negotiations.
Read more about Raimondo's opposition here.
Read about Chafee's statement http://www.golocalprov.com/news/new-chafee-issues-statement-supporting-pension-negotiations/">here.
Led by the Rhode Island State Association of Fire Fighters, unions protest the 2011 pension reform outside of the Omni Providence where Governor Lincoln Chafee and General Treasurer Gina Raimondo conduct a national conference of bond investors.
Read about Raimondo's discussion of distressed municipalities here.
The pension plan comes under increased scrutiny as a result of the involvement of hedge funds and private equity firms. Reports show that $200 million of the state pension fund was lost in 2012.
"In short, impressive educational credentials and limited knowledge of investment industry realities made Raimondo ideally suited to champion private equity’s public pension money grab." - Ted Seidle (Forbes)
Read GoLocalProv's coverage of the State Pension Fund's losses here.
Read Ted Seidle's criticism of Raimondo in Forbes.
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- Fire Fighters Sue Providence After GoLocal’s Riley Unveils Missing $60 Million
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- Providence Pension Watchdog Riley Releases Report, Calls for More Answers
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