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Saturday, July 19, 2008

Howard Bickers 70% Pay Raise MN Board Investment

Reporter dlien@pioneerpress.com

By Dennis Lien
dlien@pioneerpress.com


A legislative panel approved a plan Friday that boosts the salary for the head of Minnesota's State Board of Investment by $101,000, or 70 percent.

The decision to endorse action taken last month by the investment board puts Executive Director Howard Bicker's annual salary at $245,000, a level described as being the midpoint for comparable investment officials in other states.

In affirming the new salary plan for Bicker and about a dozen office investment employees, members of the Legislative Coordinating Commission's Subcommittee on Employee Relations said a higher pay range is needed to retain highly competent professionals.

"We need top-notch people doing this,'' said Sen. Don Betzold, DFL-Fridley.

Bicker and his staff oversee $63 billion in public employee pension assets for current and former state workers, teachers and city employees. That fund has averaged an 11 percent annual return for the past 25 years.

Normally, state officials cannot make more money than the governor, who earns $120,303 a year. But the Legislature approved an exemption for the board four years ago, enabling Bicker to earn a higher salary, or $144,000 a year.

That, however, still placed him near the lower end of the scale for pension fund directors in other states, according to a salary study recently completed for the board.

And that has made it difficult to retain employees, according to Bicker. His top assistant and likely successor, for example, recently left for

the top pension job in Maryland, which pays $235,000 a year plus a bonus.

The new salary plan still leaves the office lagging other states if incentives such as bonuses are included, Bicker said.

"We're being much more competitive than we were,'' he said.

The new salary range for Bicker is $195,000 to $295,000 a year, but the board opted in late June to set it at the midpoint, $245,000. It then recommended the legislative panel approve the higher pay plan. The Legislature must still ratify it next session.