April 8, 2010

State will keep paying teacher pension costs as Senate compromises

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By Andy Rosen
Andy@MarylandReporter.com

There will be no shift of teacher pension costs from the state to county governments, as Senate negotiators agreed to toss their plan in favor of additional study on the issue of state pension debt.

The move wouldn’t have saved any money in the fiscal 2011 budget that lawmakers will pass within days, but it could have shifted an much as $338 million in annual costs to local governments by 2015. The Senate reluctantly agreed to drop the plan as it hammered out budget differences with the House.

Meanwhile, the House agreed to drop its plan to eliminate legislative scholarships, and instead put the $11 million lawmakers dole out to their constituents into other state scholarship programs. The Senate opposed that measure.

Sen. David Brinkley, R-Carroll and Frederick, the lone Republican senator on the conference committee, said he was disappointed that there would be no movement on pensions this year. The state projects that it has promised to pay out $17 billion more over the next 30 years than it has put aside for retired employees.

Brinkley and Sen. E.J. Pipkin, R-Upper Shore, had initially proposed the shift in funding as part of a GOP budget alternative.

“We’re in a death spiral in terms of the cost,” Brinkley said, adding that he would have liked to see more than a study. “Whatever comes out [of the study has] got to happen.”

Del. Melony Griffith, D-Prince George’s, the House’s point person on employee retirement costs, said the study should result in changes. The study will build on the work of other legislative groups such as the one that was formed last year to review funding relationships between the state and counties.

“I think everyone understands that the time for action is here,” she said.

The conference committee also reversed House action to cut the $118,000 salary of Jerry Boden, the chief of staff to the Department of Veterans Affairs. He would have had to give up $21,000, so that he would have made $4,000 less than the veterans secretary instead of $17,000 more. The chief of staff position was the only one added in the department in two years, as reported here last month.