UPDATE: Missouri auditor calls for more pension oversight

Thursday, February 18, 2010 | 12:18 p.m. CST; updated 1:44 p.m. CST, Thursday, February 18, 2010

JEFFERSON CITY — Lawmakers considered a bill Thursday that would give the Missouri state auditor legal authority to monitor state pension systems.

The bill comes in response to a November court ruling that found the state auditor only has the authority to review internal audits completed by the pension systems. A Cole County Circuit Court judge quashed a subpoena from the auditor to review more documents and interview employees with the state's Local Government Employee's Retirement System.

The auditor's office has appealed the court's decision.

The bill's sponsor, Sen. Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau, told the Senate pensions committee that many other state retirement systems allow the auditor to perform a full audit despite the ambiguous language.

His bill would permit a full audit of any retirement plan created by the state.

State Auditor Susan Montee said Missouri has performed audits on pension funds without a problem since the 1980s, but it is better to clean up the language.

"The ability to have oversight into our retirement systems is beneficial," Montee said.

The state auditor goes beyond a simple fiscal audit to examine whether agencies spend money properly. This includes looking at bidding processes and travel expenses.

Montee said it doesn't make sense for her office to only review fiscal audits completed by independent auditors.

"It's an exercise in futility for us to come in and look at someone else's work," she said.

Officials with other state retirement funds spoke in favor of the change, saying they encourage the extra level of accountability.

A Pew Center on the States report released Thursday found that Missouri's overall pension system is considered healthy despite the state's current economic woes.

The report states that the systems "need improvement." Missouri is still better off than neighboring Kansas and Illinois, which had less than 60 percent of the necessary assets on hand in 2008.

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