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You Visit Tour. Webb Lion Fountain. June 1 2017. Photo David B. Hollingsworth

Offshore Energy and State Pensions on Wagner's Speaking Agenda

Gary Wagner, professor of economics in Old Dominion University's Strome College of Business, has been an in-demand expert recently for discussions about state pensions and offshore energy.

Wagner was part of a delegation of Hampton Roads legislators, business leaders and academics that traveled to Louisiana in late March to examine the Gulf Coast oil industry and its environmental protections.

The trip, organized by the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce, followed a similar visit by U.S. Rep. Scott Rigell, in 2013. Rigell accompanied this Gulf visit, which will culminate in a series of forums during the summer where the chamber will present its findings and hear public comments about the plan to explore and drill for oil and gas off the Virginia coast.

"It was tremendously insightful to learn first-hand how off-shore energy affects Louisiana and the potential it has for Hampton Roads," said Wagner, who will be lead author of the State of the Region report, which will be produced later this year.

Lawmakers are wrestling with competing agendas connected to offshore drilling. Rigell and others have argued that allowing offshore drilling would help the region economically, and reduce dependence on defense spending for its economic well-being.

Many environmental groups are opposed to the plan, and some tourist operators worry that offshore drilling could threaten their livelihoods.

Wagner, who has illustrated the strong dependence of this region's economy on federal defense spending during the annual Economic Forecasting Project and State of the Region presentations, said Hampton Roads does stand to benefit economically from the plan.

"If oil and gas exploration and production eventually occur off the Atlantic coast, our region has several key advantages that could make us a major player in the industry," Wagner said.

Besides his participation in the delegation that visited Louisiana, Wagner has twice given expert testimony for hearings in Pennsylvania about the state's pension plan for employees, an issue that is also significant in Virginia.

Wagner was invited to participate in a Pennsylvania Business Council Policy Roundtable in Pittsburgh on March 5, along with key state officials charged with managing the pension fund.

Later in March, Wagner was invited to testify regarding a bill brought by the Pennsylvania House State Government Committee that would close the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania's defined benefit retirement programs and replace them with a defined contribution plan for new employees.

During his presentation to Pennsylvania state legislators March 24, Wagner pointed out the shortfall that already exists in that state's pension fund. "I testified on the history and how current accounting metrics fail to consider investment risk in assessing the financial health of defined benefit plans," he said.