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Pension fund pledges $1 billion to rebuild

TRS to invest in post-Sandy reconstruction, other critical infrastructure projects

UFT President Michael Mulgrew announces the pension investment initiative at a p Miller Photography

UFT President Michael Mulgrew announces the pension investment initiative at a press conference with (seated on stage, from left) former President Bill Clinton, U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan, City Comptroller John Liu and AFT President Randi Weingarten.

UFT President Michael Mulgrew announced on Dec. 13 that the Teachers’ Retirement System will allocate $1 billion in post-Sandy reconstruction and other critical infrastructure projects in New York City and the surrounding area.

“It’s a win-win for our union: Infrastructure investments can yield solid rates of return for our pension fund while reducing risk, and at the same time, we will be helping New York City recover from the devastation of the hurricane,” he said in an email to members that day.

With the support of City Comptroller John Liu, the TRS plans to invest in housing, transportation, power, communications infrastructure and water to withstand future floods and hurricanes — all investments that are expected to create thousands of jobs.

“Teachers always take care of their communities,” Mulgrew noted at the press conference at the Clinton Global Initiative headquarters in Harlem on Dec. 13 to announce the initiative.

Former President Bill Clinton called the TRS pledge “a remarkable commitment” to put Americans back to work and to rebuild after Sandy. Also on hand were U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan, AFT President Randi Weingarten and Liu.

Mulgrew noted that the union had long been considering the possibility of investing pension funds in infrastructure.

“We have been working for months to create an investment strategy for the teacher pension fund that will help meet New York’s pressing needs for repairing and updating our roads and bridges, our water and power systems, and middle-income housing,” he said. “Hurricane Sandy has brought those needs into keener focus.”

The infrastructure investments could take the form of bonds purchased by the TRS from the owners of the projects or partial ownership of the projects themselves. All projects will be rated on the basis of their rate of return and the pension fund’s fiduciary standards. Recommendations about the actual projects or the form of investment in them will be made by investment professionals on the city comptroller’s staff. The TRS trustees will make the final decision. Three of the seven trustees are UFT members.

Weingarten applauded the TRS for stepping up to the plate at critical moments when the city needed help. She noted the millions of dollars that the TRS invested in city bonds in 1975, which helped the city stave off bankruptcy and saved members’ benefits in the process, and again after 9/11.

The $1 billion pledge is part of a larger multiyear $10 billion commitment by the AFL-CIO, the AFT and other public sector unions under the aegis of the Clinton Global Initiative to invest in upgrading the nation’s infrastructure and creating thousands of jobs.

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