Senate President Jeff Essmann and House Speaker Mark Blasdel on Thursday appointed a 12-member joint select committee to address state pensions, one of the major issues of the session.

Sen. Dave Lewis, R-Helena, will chair the committee, which has eight Republicans and four Democrats.

Montana state and local government pension funds face an unfunded liability, or shortfall, topping $4 billion over the next 30 years.

The select committee is charged with developing ideas and solutions to address this shortfall.

“Our state pension shortfall is a real problem,” Essmann said. “That’s why it is critical for us to come together to find a solution. We need a solution that will allow us to keep the promise we have made to our public employees, provide fairness to future employees and be responsible and fair to Montana taxpayers.”

Although in the minority in both chambers, Democrats believed they deserved more seats based on their numbers. In the Senate, Republicans have a 29-21 lead, while Republicans have a 61-39 majority in the House.

Blasdel added, “Addressing the shortfall in Montana’s state pension fund is one of our biggest jobs this year. Working on the problem through a joint bipartisan subcommittee is a good way of making sure we’re focusing on work, not on politics.”

Senate Minority Leader Jon Sesso, D-Butte, called the select committee “a good step forward.”

“We would have preferred a couple of more seats at the table to reflect the true makeup of the 63rd Legislature,” Sesso said. “Regardless, the Democrats appointed have a good working knowledge of the issue and are prepared to make significant contributions to craft a fair, workable solution to the problem.”

Committee members

Other members of the committee are: Sens. Chas Vincent, R-Libby; Ron Arthun, R-Wilsall; Scott Sales, R-Bozeman; Larry Jent, D-Bozeman; Tom Facey, D-Missoula; and Reps. Rob Cook, R-Conrad; Carl Glimm, R-Kila; Bill McChesney, D-Miles City; Joanne Blyton, R-Joliet; Keith Regier, R-Kalispell; and Kathy Swanson, D-Anaconda.

The committee will meet on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

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