Montana Lawmakers Face Pension Funding Bills in Special Session

December 6, 2005 ( - When state of Montana lawmakers convene for a special legislative session next week, improving state pension funding will be an issue high on their To Do lists.

In fact, they will get a formal additional funding request from Governor Brian Schweitzer who said he intends to get lawmakers’ OK to spend $125 million to help bail out two public retirement systems’ pension funds, the Billings Gazette reported. Together, the funds deficit is more than $1.4 billion.

He will target $100 million for the Teachers’ Retirement System, which had an unfunded liability of $903.3 million as of July 1. Schweitzer also called for putting $25 million into the Public Employees Retirement System, which reported a $541 million potential deficit on July 1. Funds would come from a larger-than-anticipated surplus in the state’s general fund.

The governor’s budget director, David Ewer, said the governor also wants the Legislature to take up two other pension-related bills next week. One, by the Teachers’ Retirement System, would tighten language defining years of service and the ability of retired employees to return to work “to prevent abuses,” Ewer said. The other, backed by Schweitzer, which was endorsed by an interim legislative committee, would reinstitute its annual review of retirement legislation.

Ewer said the Schweitzer administration favors delaying action until 2007 on a bill forcing state and local governments and school districts to raise their employer contributions to pension funds for employees. They would have to pay more than $40 million a year in new funds, with local property taxes funding the lion’s share.

Meanwhile, state Representative John Sinrud announced a 13-point pension systems overhaul he wants to raise next week. If not allowed in Schweitzer’s formal agenda, Sinrud said he will seek the signatures of 76 of the 150 lawmakers to expand the session anyway.

The cornerstone of Sinrud’a plan calls for the state to issue $625 million in general obligation bonds, with the proceeds invested by the Board of Investments for the pension funds, with stiffer restrictions.