Editorial: A revealing appointment
THE BLADE EDITORIAL BOARD
January 14, 2023
Ohio Treasurer Robert Sprague, a Findlay Republican, has a very telling appointment to make. Mr. Sprague’s appointee to the State Teachers Retirement System, Scott Roulston, has resigned from the 11-member Board of Trustees and the treasurer must make a new appointment to fill the seat.
Mr. Sprague’s decision comes in the aftermath of a Special Audit of STRS by Auditor of State Keith Faber (“No illegal activity in $90B Ohio teacher retirement fund, special audit finds,” Dec. 29). Mr. Faber’s 16-month probe of STRS produced no recommendation more important than full transparency in the third of the STRS portfolio in alternative investments without a public market.
None of Ohio’s five public pensions has reliable details on what they own in partnership with private equity and hedge funds, nor do they know independent of the outside fund manager what the assets are worth. Mr. Faber recommended that the Ohio General Assembly restore trust in the financial reporting of the state’s pensions through legislation requiring full transparency of the pension’s private market investments.
There would be no need for legislation if the boards that govern Ohio’s pensions made full transparency a requirement for investment management contracts with the pension. Above all else Mr. Sprague should make full transparency a requirement for his appointee to replace Mr. Roulston. The treasurer’s spokesman Brittany Halpin told us “the Treasurer’s top priority is to ensure that current and future pensioners will be well-served by his appointee — and it’s impossible to separate a commitment to transparency from achieving that objective.
As Mr. Faber’s 71-page report on STRS noted (“Act on STRS audit,” Jan. 2) high fees and underperformance cost the fund $90 billion of unrealized returns they could have achieved with a low-cost, fully transparent S&P 500 index fund.
These unachieved results could have bad consequences for Ohio taxpayers. STRS is currently lobbying legislators for an increase in the portion of pension payments school districts must make. There would be no need to even consider an increase in taxpayer contributions to the STRS pension and there would be more than enough to fund the 3 percent annual cost of living adjustments retired teachers have done without since 2017 had the fund used a transparent index fund.
Mr. Sprague’s appointment will be judged as a commitment to the failing status quo or recommended reform. A half million teachers and nearly 5.8 million Ohio taxpayers have a big stake in Mr. Sprague’s appointee fulfilling the treasurer's commitment to pension transparency.