By Jeremy Bauer-Wolf
Republican members of the Maryland House of Delegates are calling on the legislature to trim next year’s budget and avoid cutting payments to the state’s pension fund.
The House Minority Caucus presented its alternative budget plan Tuesday, which reduces spending growth to 1% from the fiscal year 2015’s budget proposed 4%. They plan on offering these amendments Wednesday.
“For years we’ve been offering alternative plans and alternative budgets and if any one of them had been adopted, we wouldn’t be in the fiscal mess we find ourselves in today,” said Eastern Shore Republican Del. Jeannie Haddaway, a candidate for lieutenant governor.
“This is nothing more than an election year budget.”
GOP would restore pension promises
House GOP estimated the move would net savings of more than $300 million, enough to restore $200 million in cuts to pension payments. In 2011, the legislature passed major reforms of the pension system that raised employee contributions from 5% to 7% of salaries and reduced future benefits — moves strongly opposed by state employees and teachers. In exchange, the legislature promised to use $300 million of the savings to bolster future liabilities.
Gov. Martin O’Malley proposed a $100 million cut — to $200 million — as part of this year’s budget. The Senate reduced this number to $100 million in pension payments annually when it passed the tweaked $39 billion budget mid-March.
In addition to restoring pension funds, the Republicans’ proposed reduction in spending growth would provide some cushion in case of later fiscal shortfalls, according to the caucus.
Budget amendment will be introduced Wednesday
The House will debate the budget Wednesday. Anne Arundel Republican Del. Tony McConkey said the GOP will introduce its proposed amendment then.
“We always hold out hope that the legislature will do the right thing,” McConkey said. “We hoped that the House would have rejected the pension theft and we worked all session with our colleagues … to try to develop reasonable alternatives to what the governor proposed.”
As is, the proposed budget is roughly $2 billion more than last year’s budget, though the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee cut nearly $500 million from O’Malley’s original plan. The proposed budget bumps aid to public schools and higher education, and also provides a 2% cost-of-living raise for state employees.
“We think it’s time to constrain spending,” said Del. Kathy Szeliga R-Baltimore and Harford counties. “One percent growth in the budget is sufficient to get through this next year.”