By TOM BALDWIN
Gannett State Bureau
Stewards of the state-employees’ pension fund on Monday promised greater communication with workers at a time when Wall Street’s troubles are sapping retirement plans for legions of workers.
The fund managers said they would, for example, disclose emergency investments even if they are less than the $50 million threshold.
The vow came in testimony to the State Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee by the state’s director of the division of investments, William Clark.
The issue was whether Clark and his staff should make smaller investments without prior review by a larger governing body, the state investment council.
An OK from the council is mandated for investments more than $50 million.
The session marked the first chance lawmakers had to delve into how the state-workers’ pension fund is being battered by Wall Street’s almost daily woes.
Last Thursday, the investment council disclosed a loss of $16 billion over three months ending in October. Clark said the fund held $62 billion on Oct. 31, after being as high as $81 billion.
Monday’s budget-committee hearing sought answers and direction, said Budget committee chairwoman Sen. Barbara Buono, D-Middlesex.
“I don’t think any of us could have predicted we would fall so far so fast . . . At the end of the day, people want solutions and not theatrics,” she said.
“There clearly is a lot of fear out there . . . Things are happening that should not be happening,” said Clark, who drew praise from some members for keeping the state-workers’ pension fund performing at a level that is better than an array of other institutional investors.
“Mr. Clark, you’ve done a very good job . . . New Jersey is performing better than most places,” said Senate Majority Leader Stephen M. Sweeney, D-Gloucester.
A bevy of Republican committee members asked why Orin Kramer, the chairman of the larger body, the investment council, did not appear at the hearing.
“The agenda said that Investment Council Chairman Orin Kramer had been invited to appear,” said Sen. Anthony Bucco, R-Morris. “When the state has one-year losses approaching the magnitude of the entire state budget, the investment council chairman should be there to reassure the people.”
He was joined in his complaint by Sens. Kevin O’Toole, R-Essex, Steven Oroho, R-Sussex and Philip E. Haines, R-Burlington.
“Democrat leaders tell us that Kramer’s appearance was put on the agenda by mistake,” Haines said. “Mistakes in agendas should be corrected long before the meeting starts.”
“The investment council is ultimately responsible for pension performance,” Oroho said.
Noting the pension plan had gone unfunded by the state for 10 years, union official Hetty Rosenstein, issued a statement saying: “The pension plan could not in any way handle vicissitudes of the market because it is grossly underfunded.”
Rosenstein is New Jersey area director for the Communications Workers of America, which represents many state workers.
Reach Tom Baldwin at email@example.com