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Legislature OKs state pension chief's plan to expand limit on special investments

The Senate approved without any debate a proposal that will double the amount of money the State Board of Administration, which manages Florida's $120 billion pension fund, can set aside for "alternative investments."

The bill, HB 1417, now goes to Gov. Rick Scott, who criticized these investments before taking office. Scott, along with Attorney General Pam Bondi and CFO Jeff Atwater, approved the agency's request to raise the cap last year.

The measure passed 37-1, with Sen. Mike Fasano, a persistent critic of SBA executive director Ash Williams, voting no.

"I do not support giving permission to the SBA allowing them to increase the amount of percentage of tax dollars invested into unregulated alternative investments," Fasano wrote in an email. "Alternative investments are not defined and at times too risky to be adding additional taxpayers and now state workers' money into."

Williams has said increasing the spending cap on these special investments from 10 percent to 20 percent will diversify the state's portfolio and reduce risk in a dreary market.

"It is not about struggling to get higher returns and taking on more risk in the effort," Williams said.

Critics have said the investments are secretive and risky. Alternative investments are not publicly traded and include hedge funds, private equity, venture funds or an investment in a portfolio company through an investment manager.

Lawmakers agreed in 2008 to raise the cap from 5 percent to 10 percent.