Gov. Nikki Haley has appointed three members to a board that will oversee the state’s retirement and health-care plans.
Haley’s appointments are:
• Arthur M. Bjontegard Jr., former president of S.C. National Bank, where he was in charge of the pension, investment and bond departments
• Cynthia A. Hartley, a retired vice president for human resources at Sonoco, the Hartsville-based company that makes packaging products and services
• Steve A. Matthews, an attorney at Columbia’s Haynesworth Sinkler Boyd law firm who specializes in bonds
“We’re grateful that three finance, human resources and employee benefits experts, who will be good stewards of our retirement system, have agreed to serve PEBA,” Haley said in a news release.
Haley’s three appointees will join Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott, appointed by Senate President Pro Tem John Courson, R-Richland, and former State Budget and Control Board executive director Frank Fusco, appointed by Senate Finance Committee chairman Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence, on the 11-member Public Employee Benefits Authority.
The other six appointees to the board will come two each from House Speaker Bobby Harrell, R-Charleston, and House Ways and Means chairman Brian White, R-Anderson, and one more each from Courson and Leatherman.
The authority will make policy decisions that could affect how much money taxpayers and employees have to pay into the $25 billion retirement fund. Those decisions also must be approved by the five-member State Budget and Control Board.
Accountants had estimated that South Carolina’s retirement fund would run out of money sometime over the next 30 years, falling about $15 billion short. That shortfall was growing every year, so much so that lawmakers decided to change the law in an attempt to lower the shortfall.
In June, lawmakers passed and Haley signed a law that eliminates incentives for state workers to retire early. The Gabriel Roeder & Co. actuarial firm estimated the changes in the law will reduce the state’s retirement shortfall by $2 billion this year and – if all of the state’s assumptions are met – eliminate the deficit completely by 2044.
“The most important action we could take was to reduce those unfunded liabilities and make sure taxpayers alone aren’t on the hook for cost increases,” Haley said in a news release. “We did just that this year, and as we can see, it’s already paying off.”
The law also created the Public Employee Benefits Authority. The law requires four of the panel’s members to be beneficiaries of the retirement system, giving public-sector employees a vote in how their retirement system is managed for the first time. None of Haley’s appointees are beneficiaries of the state retirement system. But at least one of them – Bjontegard – has managed pension systems in the past.
“I’ve always thought (the retirement system) is something that’s important to the state,” he said. “There are issues here that need to be resolved, and I hope I can be part of the solution.”
The authority’s first act was supposed to be approving an increase in contributions to the state health plan by state and local governments. The changes must be approved by Aug. 15. But because the full authority will not have been appointed yet – and its decisions must be approved by the State Budget and Control Board anyway – the budget board is scheduled to approve those changes today.