In November, Democrat Joseph Torsella lost his position as an overseer of Pennsylvania’s $60 billion school pension fund when he lost reelection as state treasurer. But on Thursday, Gov. Tom Wolf tapped Torsella to return to the PSERS board as his representative.
The appointment, which requires majority approval by the State Senate, would restore Torsella to a growing reform bloc on the 15-member board for PSERS. That stands for Public Schools Employees’ Retirement System, which sends checks to about 250,000 retired teachers and other former school workers.
Torsella also was at the center of a burgeoning bloc of hedge fund and private equity skeptics on state pension boards. He has publicly criticized Wall Street firms for charging too many fees for too little gain.
As treasurer, Torsella automatically got a board seat on Pennsylvania’s two massive pension plans, the $60 billion PSERS for public school employees and the $30 billion SERS for state workers. (The letters stand for the Public School Employees’ Retirement System and the State Employees’ Retirement System.)
Everything about them is supersized. Together, they serve more than 700,000 retired and working Pennsylvanians. Taxpayers pay $7 billion into the funds annually, up from near zero in the early 2000s, and five times what employees contribute. Despite that, the plans are hugely underfunded — collectively short $65 billion.
Their health is heavily dependent on their investments. Once on board, Torsella asked to see investment contracts and fee deals with outside money managers — and was told they were not public. It was as if they were somehow more confidential than a town paving contract or a sanitation worker’s salary.