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Lawmakers eye pension fund for research cash

Lawmakers are trying to tap the state’s main retirement system for public employees to replace state funding for research projects meant to help spur economic development.

The House Commerce Committee on June 10 voted 5-2 for a new piece of legislation requiring the Arizona State Retirement System’s board to ”authorize” its director to make an investment in Science Foundation Arizona.

Republican Rep. Frank Antenori of Tucson said the new legislation would put the foundation on a more businesslike footing, including giving the state a return on investments. He and other critics have argued that the state’s involvement with financing the foundation amounts to corporate welfare that can’t be justified, particularly at a time when the state faces a massive budget shortfall.

But a retirement system representative said the legislation would violate the system’s constitutional mandate to act only in the best interest of members and retirees.

The foundation’s funding of research typically involves partnerships between universities and private companies. The state initially provided the foundation with $35 million, and the Legislature in 2007 added a four-year commitment averaging $25 million a year, starting in 2007. The proposed legislation would repeal the appropriations already approved for each of the next two year fiscal years, and envisions the retirement system giving the foundation about $20 million annually.

The move comes in the wake of other attempts by some lawmakers earlier in the session to eliminate the state’s funding commitment to the foundation. The commitment was established under a 2006 law supported by then-Gov. Janet Napolitano, university officials and business groups.

The foundation’s president, Bill Harris, said details need to be worked out but that the legislation could be a way to get ”consistent funding.”

However, retirement system representative Lesli Sorensen said any investment would have to be based on financial market opportunities.

Also, she said, ”our concern is the constitutionality of mandating an investment of this sort.”

Several committee members who ultimately voted for the bill said they didn’t see it as a mandate.

The proposed legislation is a strike-everything amendment that replaces an unrelated bill’s original wording.

2 comments

  1. I am very upset and concerned regarding legislators attempting to
    ‘force’ the State Retirement System to invest in the Science Foundation.

    There needs to be legislation and ARS laws implimented that absolutely FORBID legislators promoting or passing ANY Laws that force the State Retirement System to invest retiree’s retiremet fund monies in any business or business venture that does not have the 100% support of
    the State Retirement System Board itself!!!!
    The Legislators need to pool their own monies and rob their own
    retirement funds and forfeit their perk monies and pay the state debt
    to the Science Foundation of 16,000,000 I believe, a contract the legislators
    took out with the Science Foundation and now refuses to pay, rather than
    rob the State Retirement Systems funds due to the legislators.
    I believe the Legislators were quoted as telling the Science Foundation,
    upon notice that the state was not paying what it owed to the Science
    Foundation, that they – the legislators – would attempt to get laws passed
    to get them paid!
    Rob your own accounts – not those of honest ethical state workers who
    have worked 20 years for a small retirement only to see their own legislators
    rob their savings to pay for a debt incurred by legislators, not the honest
    state workers!
    I feel strongly after this latest manuver all senior legislators and those
    who have proposed and supported this idea of robbing the state workers
    retirement fund should be replaced by whatever means available due to
    their obvious attempt at misappropriations of funds that do not belong to them – those funds belong to the workers and retiree’s !!!!
    has told the Science Foundation that

  2. I would like to see some facts regarding what the Science Foundation has accomplished over the last 4 years to justify it’s existence, let alone the need to raid retirement funds.

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