BlackRock, pension funds warn candidates of impending fiscal cliff

Updated with correction

BlackRock (BLK) and four large public pension plans were among 11 organizations signing a message displayed Monday in full-page ads in the Wall Street Journal and New York Times calling for federal candidates to take action regarding the pending fiscal cliff on Jan. 1.

Among the signatories with BlackRock were the $155.8 billion Florida State Board of Administration, Tallahassee; the $113 billion Texas Teacher Retirement System, Austin; the $27.4 billion Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund, Oak Brook; and the $21 billion Utah Retirement Systems, Salt Lake City.

The message warned candidates for president and Congress about the “urgent crisis” America faces on Jan. 1 when more than $600 billion in spending cuts and tax increases will take effect automatically “with devastating consequences for our economy if the president and Congress fail to act.”

The ad states, “Regardless of the result on Tuesday, there will be no more pressing issue for the American economy than finding a solution that can steer our nation away from this rapidly approaching fiscal cliff and towards a credible, sustainable deficit reduction plan.”

BlackRock paid for the ads, said Dennis D. MacKee, communications director of FSBA, said. BlackRock invited FSBA in the middle of last week, Mr. MacKee said.

“ BlackRock invited us to be a signatory. It didn't cost us anything. It's non-partisan, Mr. MacKee said. “This was done on an invitation. We thought it was an appropriate message.“

BlackRock spokesman Brian Beades, confirmed BlackRock paid for the ads.

Mr. MacKee added: “The bottom line is as fiduciaries we have a responsibility to have this thing (fiscal cliff) addressed.”

FSBA officials haven't heard any response to the ad from either presidential candidate, congressional leaders or others and doesn't know of any response to other signatories, Mr. MacKee said.

Mr. MacKee said FSBA officials don't know which other pension funds or other organizations BlackRock invited to be signatories but declined.

In terms of doing anything similar after the election, Mr. MacKee said, “I don't know if we would initiate anything.”

William R. Atwood, executive director, $11.6 billion Illinois State Board of Investment, Chicago, said the fund wasn't asked to be a signatory.

“It's hard to argue against the message,” Mr. Atwood said. “I can't think of any more material event on the economy besides the election in the next 90 days than how policymakers manage the approaching deadline on whether we go over the fiscal cliff. If they fail on that, the consequences to the global economy could be very bad.”

Mr. Atwood said “the unfortunate thing is that the ad had to run at all. People of the organizations listed on the page believe they have to remind policymakers how important this (fiscal cliff) is. That's unsettling. There is a general sense it's highly likely (Congress and the administration) will fail at (resolving the fiscal cliff). Hopefully, everyone will be surprised.”

ISBI has no plans to undertake advocacy on the issue. “We have plenty of fish to fry (with ISBI's responsibilities in asset management oversight). We appreciate the fact that IMRF and others did (raise attention to the fiscal cliff issue).”

Linda Horrell, IMRF communications manager, didn't respond to a request for comment.

Other signatories included AK Steel, LPL Financial, Morningstar, PPG Industries, Raymond James Financial and TD Ameritrade. AK Steel spokesman Barry L. Racey did not return a phone call by press time. PPG spokeswoman K.C. McCrory could not provide comment from the firm by press time.