The first public pension plans in Montana were individual, local pension plans established for (mostly volunteer) firefighters. The earliest of these plans was established in 1911, and over 75 of these plans still exist today. In 1927 some cities and towns began establishing small plans for their police officers. These early plans were established sporadically and had widely differing provisions and funding available.
In 1945 the Public Employees' Retirement System (PERS) and the Highway Patrolmen's Retirement System began following the establishment of the Teachers' Retirement System in 1935. Each system was administered by three separate retirement boards; the Board of Administration, the Highway Patrolmen's Retirement Board, and the State Teachers' Retirement Board. Each board invested the assets of the retirement systems, mainly in mortgages and some bonds, along with approving membership in and retirement from the systems. Since their inception, there have been many changes made by the legislature.
The signing of the Employee Retirement Law by Governor Sam C. Ford
in the presence of the steering committee.
From left to right: Dr. H F Wilkins, R A (Art) Neill, Fergus Fay, Everett Lofgren, Malcolm Bowden, Gov. Sam Ford, J Hancock, Norman Hatch, Herb Foote, and Water Burton.
PERS was initially set up as a defined contribution plan, paying an annuity to individual retirees based upon their contributions plus interest, matched by an equal employer share. The Highway Patrolmen's system, on the other hand, was set up to be a defined benefit plan.
Over the years several new systems were created "peeling off" members from PERS: Game Wardens', Judge's, and Sheriffs'. These systems were established as defined benefit retirement plans which promised a specific benefit based upon a formula.
Today, there are eight retirement systems administered by the Public Employees' Retirement Board. Each system operates as a defined benefit plan with the exception of PERS, which offers a defined contribution option to its members. Below is a summary of initial establishment of the retirement systems.