So who benefits if the investment performance is a half percentage point better? As it happens, the pension recipients are not the beneficiaries of better investment performance. In general, their pension is determined by a combined measure of years of service, salary and age. That pension stays the same no matter what happens with the investments.
In fact, the actual beneficiaries of better investment performance are the taxpayers — you and me.
When the investment staff performs well, the state or municipality is able to save on contributions to the pension plan and have more funds available to lower taxes or to spend on underpaid teachers or cops.
It is a shame that political leaders refuse to do this arithmetic. Instead of explaining to voters that better compensation will likely save taxpayer dollars, they frequently critique the current pay to score easy political points.
Last year, a paper creatively titled "Outraged by Compensation: Implications for Public Pension Performance" cited a newspaper article to highlight the problem Oregon faced in trying to bring its compensation to market levels: "Unspoken, but also politically inconvenient is the compensation (paid to) attract talent from the private sector. The state's existing investment officers are some of the best paid public employees, making an average of $200,000 a year. But Treasury officials quietly complain that staff is underpaid by industry standards, and bristle about having to explain and get approval from the Legislature to release performance-based pay each year. As Treasurer (Tobias) Read pleads: If we have the talent, we will be able to make the decisions better.'"
This paper also points out that about $300,000 in increased compensation can translate to about $50 million in higher returns. That is significant money put back into the pockets of taxpayers.
The "outrage" should not be that public investment staffs are paid too much. It should be that they are not paid enough.
Charles E.F. Millard, New York, is the former director of the U.S. Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. This content represents the views of the authors. It was submitted and edited under Pensions & Investments guidelines but is not a product of P&I's editorial team.