Wyo. lawmakers mull response to pension value dive

AP News
Posted: Dec 10, 2009 10:47 AM

Wyoming lawmakers plan to consider two bills next month that would increase contributions to the state's public employee retirement system.

The Wyoming Retirement System saw that value of its investments tumble in the recent recession.

The value of the retirement system's portfolio fell from $6.3 billion at the start of 2008 to $4.6 billion last January. Thom Williams, executive director, said Wednesday that the value has climbed back to $5.6 billion.

A state consultant has estimated that contributions need to increase by 2.87 percentage points to keep the retirement system healthy over the long term. The system pays benefits to about 19,000 former state employees.

Gov. Dave Freudenthal in his proposed budget has called for placing nearly $50 million in a special fund that could be used to increase retirement system funding over the next two years if the Legislature determines it's necessary. The funding would be roughly split between the state's general fund, which covers general government operations, and the state's school system.

Members of the Joint Appropriations Committee agreed on Wednesday to consider a bill next month that would require the state put up nearly $50 million to increase retirement funding by 1.5 percentage points over the next two years. They will consider another bill that would cover the whole 2.87 percentage points, but split the cost between the state and state employee contributions.

Mike McVay, administrator of the Wyoming Department of Administration and Information, said all public employee retirement plans took a hit in the recent economic downturn.

"It's not a function of somebody doing a bad job," McVay said of the decline in the value of the Wyoming system.

Sen. Phil Nicholas, R-Laramie, is co-chairman of the JAC. He said state lawmakers have to come to grips with the reality that the system has lost money that must be made up again.

"It just demonstrates that we have a lot of issues that impact our budget that are fallouts from the economic recession," Nicholas said.