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Cabinet Delays Look at SBA Oversight

Gov. Charlie Crist and the Cabinet postponed action Tuesday on a recommendation to expand oversight of the state’s $110 billion pension fund and other investments but instead wants to hear more from the agency that now manages the nation’s fourth largest retirement account before taking action.

Instead, the governor and Cabinet agreed to return in December to explore the possibility of increasing the ranks of the three-member State Board of Administration’s Board of Trustees to include members with more financial experience. Currently, the trustees are Crist, Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink and Attorney General Bill McCollum.

In addition, the panel will look at recommendations to provide more training to existing members and the use of outside auditors to see how the state is managing its investments.

The December deferral comes after a trio of motions by Sink were left hanging as Crist and McCollum chose not to go along, saying they were concerned the changes may need voter approval and may, in fact, be unnecessary.

“Given the financial challenges we have been through and the growth of our fund…it’s time for a change,” Sink said. “The governance study shows that the board should include more than three elected officials.”

Sink’s motion was met with more than a moment of silence, after which McCollum and Crist asked SBA executive director Ash Williams to come back in December to brief them again. Along with questions over whether a constitutional amendment was needed to make the changes, the pair also questioned whether changes even need to be made to the oversight of the pension fund, which is among a handful of state pension accounts that is fully funded.

“I’m not yet convinced at the present time that the governance structure itself is broken,” said McCollum, a Republican who is running against the Democratic CFO to become Florida’s next governor.

The deferral came at the end of a relatively short meeting in which the panel also:

-Appointed Julie L. Jones as the new executive director of the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. Jones, 52, the former director of law enforcement for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, replaces Electra Theodorides-Bustle, who stepped down from the post to take a job in the private sector earlier this month.

-Approved the routine sale of more than $600 million in bonds for transportation and school construction projects. The sales included $245 million for roads and bridges, $205 million for the Florida Turnpike system and $156 million in school construction bonds.

-Approved the $2 million purchase of a conservation easement on 436 acres at the southern end of Lake Miccosukee immediately south of U.S. Hwy 90 in Jefferson County. The conservation easement would enable the property to be protected from future development, providing watershed and aquifer recharge protection for the St. Marks River/Apalachee Bay Watershed.

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