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Wolf, treasurer push pension agencies to cut investment fees

Mark Scolforo, Associated Press

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) -- Pennsylvania's two large public-sector pension agencies got a message from Gov. Tom Wolf on Monday: cut the fees paid to outside firms handling billions in investments.

Wolf and Treasurer Joe Torsella said at a news conference that they hoped that the state government pension fund would find ways to save $46 million annually and the school employees' fund about $100 million a year.

The two Democrats said Pennsylvania is near the top in the ranking of states that pay the highest percentage of pension-fund investment fees.

"This is something that we can do immediately," said Wolf, noting the proposal should be accompanied by legislative changes to the system.

"There has been some progress," Torsella said. "We're suggesting the progress needs to be accelerated."

They said that in the most recent year, the two funds paid out nearly $600 million in fees. Torsella said that number was likely less than the actual total.

A spokeswoman for the State Employees' Retirement System, for state government workers, said it has been reducing fees and moving to passive investments that now make up about 40 percent of the fund.

"As a board member, the treasurer will have an opportunity to discuss these recommendations with the full board," said the spokeswoman, Pam Hile.

Torsella also has a seat on the Public School Employees' Retirement System board. System spokeswoman Evelyn Tatkovski Williams said the letter from Wolf and Torsella will be discussed at a board meeting in the coming months.

Cutting external management fees are a priority, and they have dropped from $558 million in 2012-13 to $416 million last year, Williams said. The agency has been increasing its internal management of assets.

"By bringing more assets in-house, PSERS generates investment management fee savings," Williams said in an email. "When assets are assigned to PSERS' staff, the total costs ... are much lower than the largest 'very low fee' index mutual fund companies, giving PSERS a significant advantage."

Wolf and Torsella also said both funds could reap savings by consolidating investment and support operations. They also said expanding a deferred compensation program would result in a fresh stream of money that would improve the funds' financial health.