CHEYENNE, Wyo. — Wyoming voters will decide in November whether to change the state constitution to allow the investment of billions more dollars of state funds in the stock market.
Supporters say the move would allow the state to reap higher returns. Opponents counter that the state shouldn’t bet money it can’t afford to lose.
The Wyoming constitution currently allows the Legislature to direct the investment of state permanent funds and the funds of the state public employee retirement system into stocks and other equities.
Currently, state law limits stock investments to 55 percent of permanent funds and 45 percent of retirement funds. But no operating funds can be invested in stocks.
The proposals going before voters would allow the Legislature to set whatever limits it wants on the investment of operating funds in the stock market.
Wyoming Treasurer Mark Gordon is pushing for the change. As of July 31, the state had about $20 billion in various funds, including just over $6 billion in state operating funds.
“We think it’s pretty important,” Gordon said in a recent interview, noting that bonds are currently earning only about 2 percent — about the same as the inflation rate.
Over the past decade, Gordon said, a typical permanent fund investment portfolio of 60 percent stocks, 40 percent bonds has earned close to 10 percent annually.
To become effective, the proposed amendment would have to be approved by a majority of voters. A two-thirds majority vote in both houses of the Legislature would still be required to invest money from the state’s non-permanent funds in stocks.
The amendment would allow the Legislature to designate which permanent funds can be subjected to greater investments in the stock market.
“So it’s not just a go-for-broke proposition,” Gordon said. “The Legislature has to, by a two-thirds vote, say which funds can have some equity.”
He said if the measure passes, investments would still need approval of state investment advisers as well as top state elected officials sitting as the Loan and Investment Board.
Former Wyoming House Speaker Roy Cohee, a Casper Republican, is among those working to raise public awareness in support of the proposed amendment.
Cohee believes the Treasurer’s Office and its investment advisers have always been careful.
“Without a doubt, they’ll get hammered from time to time,” Cohee said. “But just like anybody’s 401-k, you would like to capitalize on the market as much as you can while being safe about it.”
A measure to put the question on the ballot passed overwhelmingly in the Legislature in 2015. Still, some lawmakers say they remain concerned that the state shouldn’t put its operating funds at risk in the stock market.
“I’ve always been concerned with the stock market and its volatility,” said Rep. Garry C. Piiparinen, R-Evanston, one of those who voted against the change. “I’m just not ready to play craps with the state’s money right now.”