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NYC comptroller wants pension fund data online

NEW YORK (AP) — The city’s comptroller announced Monday that he plans to make public the inner workings of one of the nation’s largest public pension fund systems, letting residents see which companies’ stocks are being bought with their tax dollars and monitor the performance of more than $113 billion in investments.

Much of the plan will require the agreement of members of the boards of trustees that govern the five city pension funds, but Comptroller John Liu said he believes that the trustees will readily agree to reverse a longstanding practice of confining most discussions to private sessions and that they will be willing to allow detailed information on the funds’ holdings and how they are performing to be published and updated regularly.

“Pensioners as well as taxpayers deserve to know how their money is being invested and spent,” said Liu, a Democrat. “I share the trustees’ commitment to increase transparency, which in turn leads to better performance.”

The funds’ holdings, worth $113.4 billion on Dec. 31, include shares in thousands of companies. But there has never been an easy way for New Yorkers to determine which companies’ stocks are being bought with their tax dollars, and summary reports have traditionally lagged by months.

Liu’s plan would put all of those holdings online and update them daily, along with information about the portfolio managers hired by the city to handle the funds. The data will allow members of the public to track the performance of individual managers and hold them accountable, Liu said.

Representatives of the police and firefighters unions and District Council 37, a union representing many of the city’s workers, said they would support the transparency initiatives from their seats on the funds’ boards. The mayor’s office did not immediately respond to inquiries on whether its representatives would support the plan.

The proposed website, to be completed by Jan. 1, 2013, would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, to be provided by Liu’s office and by the funds themselves, he said.

Liu also wishes to place each of the funds’ expenditures in an online database, along with information on their payroll spending.

By July 1, Liu said, he will begin Internet video broadcasts of the public portion of trustees’ meetings, launch an online library containing quarterly fund overviews and other fund-related documents and create a web page that answers frequently asked questions about the funds.

The funds currently make about 50 to 100 shareholder proposals each year and vote on thousands of others, and the online library also would contain information on those proposals.

The funds serve about 700,000 current and former employees of the city, which has more than 8 million residents. They have been the focus of much attention recently as Democrat-turned-Republican-turned-independent Mayor Michael Bloomberg has argued that the city’s long-term fiscal outlook is compromised by its ongoing pension obligations.

City union officials have accused the mayor of blaming the pensions when the misdeeds of Wall Street are at fault, but the city says that pension costs have been skyrocketing since before the downturn hit.

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