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Losing billions, Ohio pension system pays millions in bonuses

By   /   March 19, 2013  /   5 Comments

You have the wrong job.STRS-logo2

The Cincinnati Enquirer reported yesterday that the State Teachers Retirement System has “paid out $38.6 million in bonuses to its roughly 80-member investment staff” since 2005.

By comparison, the larger Ohio Public Employees Retirement System has paid $10.7 million, not including 2012.

“Millions of dollars went to employees even when the system’s portfolio did poorly,” the newspaper reported, but the Enquirer didn’t explain just how poorly the fund has been performing.

Between July 1, 2007 and July 1, 2012, STRS lost almost $7.2 billion, going from $66.7 billion to $59.5 billion.

That’s a five-year return of negative 10.7 percent. Most of that was due to the market collapse of 2008, but even the four-year bull run since then hasn’t been enough to restore the losses. As bad as the market has performed, STRS has been worse – a full seven points below the Dow Jones Industrial Average for the five years.

Worse, STRS’ liabilities have been increasing relentlessly in the meantime, going from $81.1 billion to $106.3 billion. That means that an unfunded debt of $14.5 billion has metastasized into a $46.8 billion cancer.

And that’s using STRS’ own numbers. The debt would be nine figures if it were calculated with the same rules that companies use.

STRS’ funding ratio has slipped to a nearly hopeless 56 percent. It’s legally required to get on a 30-year path to full solvency, but hasn’t met that requirement since 2009. Last year, the Legislature cut benefits over the next 30 years by 36 percent, while increasing teacher contributions from 10 to 14 percent, and even that wasn’t enough to get the fund back on the 30-year track.

In the last fiscal year, the assets under STRS’ management grew by just $1.3 billion, while liabilities increased by $7.5 billion. That’s the situation fund managers will be in year after year, as they try to hit targeted returns of $8 billion, $9 billion, or $10 billion a year, with capital of just $60 billion. The only way to do that is by taking on dangerous levels of risk.

Or, the fund managers could turn from that temptation and embrace their own mediocrity (as in, 2.2 percent returns in FY2012). The Enquirer found that fund managers “received bonuses in fiscal 2012 as high as 77.6 percent of their salaries. In other years, employees earned as much as 125 percent of their salaries. Assistant Director of Investment Mary Ellen Grant, for example, received $512,842 in salary and bonus in 2011 as the top earner in the department.”

— Jon Cassidy


Jon Cassidy is the Houston-based reporter for Watchdog.org. He worked for six years as a reporter and editor for The Orange County Register after beginning his career at The Hill, broken up by a few years in South America working as a translator and English teacher. His work has been published by the Wall Street Journal, Fox News, City Journal, The American Spectator, Reason, The Federalist, Human Events, the Dallas Morning News, the San Antonio Express-News, and other publications. He was awarded the 2014 Robert Novak Journalism Fellowship. He is best known for his work in bringing to light a far-reaching admissions scandal at The University of Texas. You can reach him at [email protected]