DOUG ROSS: After winning jackpot, how to invest it?

2014-03-21T00:00:00Z DOUG ROSS: After winning jackpot, how to invest it?By Doug Ross doug.ross@nwi.com, (219) 548-4360 or (219) 933-3357 nwitimes.com

If you had won Tuesday's $400 million Mega Millions jackpot, how long would it take you to decide what to do with that money?

I'm guessing it would take you a lot less time than for Porter County officials to reach a decision on the $140 million jackpot they received when they sold Porter Hospital in 2007.

Here we are seven years later, and the County Council and commissioners still are discussing what to do with that money.

When I talk of long-range planning, I'm not thinking of a planning process that takes years to accomplish.

As it now stands, it takes a majority of the County Council and Board of Commissioners to spend any of the interest money. Cracking the nest egg open — spending any of the principal — requires the unanimous consent of every member of both groups.

Meanwhile, the interest continues to add up, but not very quickly. Indiana law places strict limits on how county funds are invested.

County officials are continuing to discuss the option of taking a portion of that money and putting it into a foundation where it could fund big projects — and where the interest income would grow faster.

While they continue to discuss that option — more long-range planning — County Treasurer Mike Bucko is pushing for a legislative easing of his fiscal handcuffs.

Bucko worked with state Rep. Chuck Moseley, a Democrat, and state Sen. Ed Charbonneau, a Republican, on legislation that would address long-range investments for the proceeds from the sale of a major asset.

The General Assembly approved a summer study on this issue, but Charbonneau told me Thursday that's no guarantee the study will actually take place. It's up to the legislative leaders to determine that.

Yet to be ironed out are wrinkles like how to define a "major county asset," whether the proceeds should be put in a nonreverting trust fund with the principal never diminished, and permissible uses for the interest from that fund.

This might seem to apply only to Porter County, but Bucko says that's not so. Several counties are interested in selling hospitals, retirement homes and other houses and want to be able to invest these windfalls in mutual funds or other investments that would offer a good return on investment with relatively little risk.

"If it's a tool in our toolbox of opportunities, we ought to have it there," Bucko said.

This idea makes sense. We're talking about investments rated AA or above, not "Wolf of Wall Street" penny stocks and junk bonds.

"I have no business as a treasurer investing in complicated investments," Bucko said.

The Legislature should give the county treasurer more leeway, within reason, in investing this money for the long term.

Because who knows whether the County Council and commissioners will still be undecided next year on what to do with this huge jackpot.

Editorial Page Editor Doug Ross can be reached at (219) 548-4360 or (219) 933-3357 or Doug.Ross@nwi.com. Follow him at www.facebook.com/doug.ross1 and on Twitter @nwi_DougRoss. The opinions are the writer's.

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