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2013 Montana Legislature: Fixing state pensions on the agenda

The Missoulian | by Charles S. Johnson | January 2, 2013

HELENA - One of the thorniest issues facing legislators this winter will be how to improve the finances of state public employee pensions and whether to change how the systems are structured.

Spurring the discussion is the fact that state pension funds face a potential shortfall topping $4 billion over the next 30 years.

Some solutions call for pumping surplus state cash or coal tax trust fund money into some pension systems. Others propose increasing how much public employers contribute to the funds per employee, while others also would require workers to boost their own contributions. (See related story online.)

Outgoing Gov. Brian Schweitzer, a Democrat, has called for increasing the pension contributions from both public employers and public employees by an additional 1 percent of their salary. The plan also calls for spending $30 million a year in revenue from natural resource development over the next two years and require local governments to contribute more too.

Other proposals seek to totally revamp certain pension plans for employees. They would require new employees to be part of something more like a 401(k) system and dropping the current defined benefits system that guarantees retirees a fixed monthly pension based on how long they worked and their average of top annual salaries.

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