February 10, 2010

House rejects own pay hike, but GOP says amendment blocked

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By Len Lazarick
Len@MarylandReporter.com

The House of Delegates Wednesday rejected a $2,000 pay raise for themselves in a preliminary vote, but they never got a say on one Republican’s proposal to cut back their pensions.

“They didn’t want a public debate on that amendment,” House Minority Leader Tony O’Donnell, R-Calvert and St. Mary’s, charged in an interview.

The resolution rejects a commission’s recommendation raising legislative pay to $45,500 in 2013 and 2014 if unemployment fell below 5 percent. It passed “second reading” in a routine voice vote.

That action happened before Del. Bill Frank, R-Baltimore County, stood up to offer amendments that had he said just been handed him by bill drafters “two minutes before.”

O’Donnell asked the House and Speaker Michael Busch to bring the bill back so it could be amended.

But House Appropriations Committee Chairman Norman Conway, D-Wicomico, said he hadn’t seen any amendment, and most of the delegates hadn’t either. O’Donnell told the House that’s why Frank wanted to delay the vote, so that the committee and House members could discuss the amendment.

Busch resisted the move.

“I mean everybody had an opportunity to offer an amendment and they sat there and now they want a roll call,” he said from the rostrum.

“It’s snowing, sir, and we’re all a little confused,” implored Del. Rick Impallaria, R-Baltimore County.

The motion to reconsider the preliminary vote on the bill failed 41-58.

“This is setting the worst tone for the rest of the session,” O’Donnell said. He later called the action “brute force” and “kind of strong-arm – the kind of governance that the American people are sick and tired of.”

O’Donnell said Frank’s two amendments did two things. One would have scaled back pensions for current legislators, who get 3 percent of the current salary for every year of service up to a maximum of two-thirds of their pay after serving 22 years. O’Donnell said the amendment would change the pension system for new legislators, establishing a defined contribution plan where the government sets aside a fixed percentage of their pay, rather than guaranteeing a defined benefit.

The General Assembly Compensation Commission had considered some changes in the current pension, but had decided not to make any changes.