Letting the Public Peek at Pensions: Props to You, Liu!

Transparency in government is a good thing, so we welcome City Comptroller John Liu’s plan to allow unprecedented public access to the city’s vast $113 billion pension system. Fund managers may not be so thrilled about this sort of transparency, but they’ll have to get used to it as part of the price of doing business with the city’s pension fund.

Mr. Liu will need the permission of the boards of the city’s five pension funds to put his plan into action. But if that approval is forthcoming, pensioners and taxpayers alike will be able to log on to a Web site and find out which stocks the funds are buying, how the funds are performing on a daily basis and who is responsible for that performance. Some of this information currently is available, sort of, but it’s not easy to access. Mr. Liu wants to change that.

“Pensioners as well as taxpayers deserve to know how their money is being invested and spent,” he told the New York Post. The Web site should be up and running by 2013.

Public pensions are, of course, a hot-button issue these days. Mayor Bloomberg and others have called for drastic pension reform to avoid saddling New Yorkers with out-of-control obligations to retired city employees. If Mr. Liu’s plan can add transparency to the process and allow for a more enlightened discussion about these funds, all the better.

New technology also can make pension reform less of an abstraction for taxpayers concerned about the cost of the city’s pension liabilities. In any case, it’s not a bad thing to allow the public to see how the pension system works. Secrecy and a notoriously opaque process facilitated the abuses carried out during State Comptroller Alan Hevesi’s administration of the state pension system. If Mr. Liu’s plan restores trust in the management of public pension funds, that’s a good thing.