The teachers’ union has taken the lead role in the fight against cuts in state pension benefits, an understandable position, since teachers have more at stake.
The Maryland State Education Association has more members than any other union in the fight. Its members make more money on average than other government workers. And because of higher pay, they get higher pension benefits, according to figures from the Maryland State Retirement and Pension System.
The teachers’ union also led the successful effort in 2006, where the General Assembly unanimously improved pension benefits in exchange for higher contribution rates. The pension cuts and contribution hikes that are now close to passing in the legislature represent a significant roll back from those improvements.
Teachers in general have substantially benefited from the large increases in school aid that began eight years ago.
The state has several different retirement and pension systems. The “retirement system” was the original plan that was closed to new members in 1980, and it has better overall benefits.
Since 1980, any state worker or teacher must join the pension system established at that time. Those separate pension systems for employees and teachers now have the most members as members of the old system age and retire.
As of June 30 last year, there were 103,162 active members of the teachers’ pension system. Their average age is 44 and they make on average $58,000 a year. That salary is 50% higher than it was 10 years before that, and there are also 17% more active teachers in both the pension and retirement systems.
The 27,268 retired teachers (and beneficiaries, such as a spouse) get an average pension of $17,800 – about 56% more than retired teachers were getting 10 years ago.
Last year, there were 77,660 active members of the state employee retirement system, which also includes some local government employees. Their average age is 48 and they make an average salary of $47,300 – about 18% less than teachers, a spread that is a little wider now than it was 10 years ago. Unlike the teachers, whose numbers grew by tens of thousands, there are actually 661 fewer active state employee members in both the pension and retirement systems than there were 10 years ago, reflecting some of the personnel cutbacks in state government.
The 35,400 retired state workers get an average annual pension of $11,280, 36% less than teachers receive.
This growing difference between what teachers are paid and their pension amounts, based on contract negotiations with local school boards, and what state workers make and their pensions has led Senate President Mike Miller to consistently press to have the counties pick up more of the cost of teacher pensions. This idea was considered and quickly rejected by both the House of Delegates and the Senate in this year’s budget deliberations.