(Reuters) - New York City's pension funds should boost investment in local transportation, power and communications projects to create badly needed new jobs, the city's Public Advocate Bill de Blasio recommended on Tuesday.
"We are leaving resources on the table that we should be putting to work right here in the five boroughs," de Blasio, who is expected to run for mayor in 2013, said in a statement.
The Democratic public advocate is a trustee of one the biggest of New York City's five pension funds, the $40 billion-plus New York City Employee Retirement System (NYCERS), which mostly covers non-uniformed public workers.
The mandate of making local investments with New York City pension funds began in 1982 under Democratic Mayor Ed Koch.
Though NYCERS has been authorized to invest as much as $800 million in city projects, de Blasio said it has so far put only $450 million to work locally and has not invested any "significant" sums since the recession began.
"The $450 million invested so far has yielded above-benchmark returns as well as built or rehabilitated over 14,000 units of affordable housing across the city," he added.
Investing the remaining $350 million allowed in such projects as helping to build a new cross-Hudson Tappan Zee Bridge in a public-private partnership, for example, could create up to 10,000 jobs for the city, where the unemployment rate stands just under 9 percent, de Blasio estimated.
De Blasio wants all of the city's pension funds to follow the lead of the one he helps run by investing in other projects such as new power transmission lines or fiber optic cable ventures.
The assets of New York City's five pension funds, overseen by City Comptroller John Liu, another potential Democratic mayoral candidate, total about $110 billion.
Liu's spokesman, Michael Loughran, said in a statement the comptroller had been discussing these kinds of local investments with the pension boards since last summer and would address the issue in his State of the City speech on Thursday.
The list of other pension funds that have made similar local investments includes the country's biggest. The board of the $227 billion California Public Employees' Retirement System, best known as Calpers, last September supported a plan to set aside up to $800 million for public and private infrastructure investments to meet its return goals and create jobs.
(Reporting by Joan Gralla; additional reporting by Jim Christie in San Francisco; Editing by G Crosse)