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State treasurer warns lawmakers pension fund needs more flexibility, or else

State Treasurer Janet Cowell is urging lawmakers to give her more flexibility to invest the state’s pension money, warning that is is “very unlikely” returns will meet projections without the change.

In a recent letter to legislative leaders, Cowell said returns on the state’s $80 billion pension fund are in jeopardy because global stock markets are hitting an all-time high and bond returns are expected to fall. If the state doesn’t meet the 7.25 percent return rate, Cowell said the taxpayers may be on the hook to buttress the promised retirement benefits.

SB558 letter to General Assembly.pdf

Senate budget expands database reach, raises privacy concerns

A year ago, a little-noticed provision in the state budget initiated the creation of a computer database, to be overseen by the state controller, to be drawn from individual information of state residents collected by state agencies, Scott Mooneyham at The Insider reports. The provision didn't exactly explain the purpose of the database, except to state that it was meant to "reduce unnecessary information silos" and "leverage the data." A series of new provisions in the Senate's proposed budget would rework, add to, and may explain the purpose of something called "the enterprise-level business intelligence initiative."

As questions are raised, Cowell backs pension investment flexibility

A Senate committee approved legislation Thursday to further loosening investing rules for the state pension fund at the request of Treasurer Janet Cowell, just as the fund's former investment head has been writing some stinging criticism about states that have ramped up their alternatives investments, Scott Mooneyham at the Insider reports.

Andy Silton, who served as chief investment officer during a portion of the terms of former State Treasurer Richard Moore, has gone as far as to question the moves into private equity and hedge funds during his time on the job here. "Unfortunately, we went ahead and implemented a program of investing in hedge funds and private equity. While our program didn’t do any harm, it didn’t help anyone but the money managers," Silton wrote recently.

Apodaca and Hise named pension chairs

Senators Tom Apodaca of Henderson and Ralph Hise of Mitchell have been named co-chairs of the Senate Committee on Pensions & Retirement and Aging.

In naming the two, Senate leader Phil Berger said their assignment was “to ensure North Carolina's pension system protects taxpayers from enormous unfunded liabilities and remains sustainable for current and future retirees.''

Apodaca and Sen. Wesley Meredith co-chaired the committee during the past session.

Pate and Hise named to health care committees

Seators Louis Pate of Wayne and Ralph Hise of Mitchell have been named co-chairs of the Senate Health Care Committee and the Appropriations Subcommittee on Health and Human Servces.

The committee will have jurisdiction over public health, health care, Medicaid, and other health issues.

"Rapidly growing health care costs are taking an ever-larger chunck of money out of North Carolinians' wallets and oru state budget," said Senate leader Phil Berger. "Sen Pate and Sen. Hise are the right leaders to promoe the free market solutions our health care system needs in order to create a thriving economy.''

Lawmaker's bill sells empty prison to his employer for $1

As the institutional assessment planning officer at Mayland Community College, part of  Ralph Hise's job is to help the institution find room to grow.

As a freshman state Senator, the Spruce Pine Republican secured his employer the real estate it needs — for the modest sum of $1.

Hise was the sole sponsor of  Senate Bill 159, which orders the state Department of Correction to sell a closed prison facility in Newland to the community college for a buck. The bill passed both legislative chambers unanimously.

But Hise's dual role a lawmaker and college employee gave Gov. Bev Perdue some pause. She declined to sign the bill earlier this week, but also did not veto it — clearing the way for the legislation to become law without her.

Pam Walker, a DOC spokeswoman, said the agency had no future use for the former Blue Ridge Correctional Center, which closed in 2002. The department had taken steps to have the property declared surplus and sold, potentially raising funds for the cash-strapped state.

"We were not involved in SB 159 nor do we have an opinion on it," Walker said in an e-mail.

Hise could not immediately be reached for comment.

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