Here in Washington, there are eight state-administered public retirement systems for state and local government employees, with 15 different plans within those systems. These systems serve nearly 784,000 current and former public employees. The retirement benefits they earn result in more than $4.3 billion in payments each year, most of which is distributed within the state.
Washington has been a national leader in designing and maintaining sustainable public pension plans. More than 30 years ago, the state undertook a comprehensive reform of its pension plans to provide reasonable benefits while maintaining healthy funding status for the plans. More recently, the state was the first to use hybrid defined contribution/defined benefit plans.
These reforms and innovations, combined with progressive investment policies, have resulted in Washington's system of public pensions being consistently ranked among the best-funded of any state in the country.
In the 1930s and 1940s, retirement systems were created for the state's public employees, teachers, judges, law enforcement officers and fire fighters. Each was independently administered until 1976, when the Legislature created the Department of Retirement Systems (DRS) to serve as the administrator of the public retirement systems. In 1996, DRS also took on the role of administering the state's Deferred Compensation Program (DCP).
Systems, Plans and Programs Administered
- Public Employees’ Retirement System (PERS)
- Teachers' Retirement System (TRS)
- School Employees' Retirement System (SERS)
- Law Enforcement Officers' and Fire Fighters' Retirement System (LEOFF)
- Washington State Patrol Retirement System (WSPRS)
- Public Safety Employees' Retirement System (PSERS)
- Judges' Retirement Fund (JRF)
- Judicial Retirement System (JRS)
- Judicial Retirement Account (JRA)
- Deferred Compensation Program (DCP)
PERS Plan 1 and TRS Plan 1 are defined benefit plans that provide full pension benefits based on years of service – members are eligible after 30 years of employment.
PERS Plan 2, SERS Plan 2, TRS Plan 2, and PSERS Plan 2 are defined benefit plans that provide full pension benefits after the member reaches age 65.
LEOFF Plans 1 and 2 and WSPRS Plans 1 and 2 are defined benefit plans that provide full pension benefits based on the member’s age at retirement.
PERS Plan 3, SERS Plan 3 and TRS Plan 3 are defined benefit plans that include a member-funded defined contribution component. Full pension benefits are provided after the member reaches age 65.
Governance and Administration
Unlike many other states, the governance and administration of Washington's public pensions is shared among several entities:
- The Department of Retirement Systems collects and accounts for contributions, verifies data reported by employers, maintains records, communicates pension information and pays retirement benefits.
- The Legislature enacts retirement plan policy, including funding policy, and establishes contribution rates.
- The Select Committee on Pension Policy studies pension issues and recommends any retirement plan changes to the Legislature. Committee members represent active and retired members of the retirement systems, as well as state legislators.
- The Office of the State Actuary is staff support for the Select Committee on Pension Policy and performs regular valuations of the retirement plans, determining overall health and funding status, and recommends employer/state and member contribution rates to the Pension Funding Council.
- The Pension Funding Council evaluates and adopts pension funding assumptions and recommended contribution rates.
- The Washington State Investment Board serves as pension fund trustee and invests and accounts for the trust fund dollars.