Unions for teachers and state workers are organizing what they hope will be one of the largest rallies at the State House in years to protect their pension benefits and reduce funding cuts.
But some of the advanced tactics for next Monday’s rally are getting push back from key legislators who object to being depicted as skimping on education.
Del. John Bohanan, chair of the education appropriations subcommittee, had already chided a lobbyist for the Maryland State Education Association at a hearing last week.
Then Sen. Nathaniel McFadden, a career educator who is vice chair of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee, took umbrage with another MSEA lobbyist over a letter sent out by union president Clara Floyd.
McFadden described the letter as “a kick in the teeth,” especially for someone who had been “a member of the teachers’ union since 1968.”
Floyd’s letter says, “legislators are considering underfunding education by $100 million, threatening layoffs and ballooning class sizes.” It also says, “legislators are considering sending our pensions back to the lowest in the nation.”
“We didn’t put this budget together,” McFadden protested. “The governor did,” and yet he is only mentioned once toward the end of the letter.
“We’ve worked very hard over the years to make the conditions for the teachers in the state better and make sure that students get the education funding they deserve,” McFadden said. The General Assembly also voted almost unanimously to increase teacher and employee pensions in 2006.
“All these things we did at some risk to the financial condition of this state,” McFadden said. Overall, teachers’ salaries have gone up far more than those for state employees. “We’re your friends and we take the heat from Republicans and Democrats.”
But now the economic downturn requires cutbacks, and “everybody has to be part of the process for a solution,” he said. His committee colleagues have already been looking for ways to restore the education funding that the governor had “level funded,” producing a net reduction in per pupil aid.
Adam Mendelson, a spokesman for MSEA, said, “Governor O’Malley’s budget is now in the hands of the General Assembly, and it is within their power to decide whether to pass the budget as submitted or to make changes to it.”
“We continue to urge the General Assembly to seek a solution which would avoid the far-reaching negative consequences that these cuts would guarantee,” Mendelson said. But teachers have also “sent thousands of emails to Gov. O’Malley, signed petitions addressed to him against the proposed teacher tax, and put in calls to his office from across the state.”
McFadden may have been more upset than other members of the budget committee, but Chairman Ed Kasemeyer said, “I’ve warned the committee of the storm yet to come. I think momentum is building” among the teachers and employees.
As the decisions on the pension changes and budgets near, “It’s going to be stressful,” Kasemeyer said.