With minimal debate, the Maryland Senate rejected a half dozen Republican attempts to further trim Gov. Martin O'Malley's $39 billion budget Wednesday, and gave preliminary approval to the spending plan that will be sent to the House this week.
The Senate Budget and Taxation Committee ultimately cut $492 million from the current budget and O'Malley's proposal for next year, partly to make up for lowered revenue estimates in both years.
The largest unions representing state workers and public school teachers are upset at Gov. Martin O'Malley's decision to permanently cut $100 million from extra payments into the state pension system. The money came from additional employee salary deductions required by a 2011 pension reform, and was intended to help cure underfunding in the pension system.
The money Maryland's state and local governments have failed to set aside to fulfill pension promises made to teachers and employees has ballooned to more than $22.5 billion over the past five years, a new report has found.
But the counties that run their own pension systems are in much better shape than the state of Maryland, with the exception of Prince George's County.
The most under-funded retirement benefits continue to be health insurance for these retirees, which amount to $28 billion for state and local governments. Only a handful of county governments have tried to sock money away.
The Maryland state pension system achieved a 10.6% return on its investment portfolio for the fiscal year that ended June 30, bringing the fund assets to a total of $40.2 billion, Chief Investment Officer Melissa Moye told the pension trustees Tuesday.
The return exceeded the system's target of 7.75% annual return, and was far better than the dismal results of less than 1% for fiscal 2012.
The outside advisor for the Maryland pension system told its Board of Trustees Tuesday that he was "very disappointed" that the legislature reduced the state's payment into the retirement fund by $100 million in budget action this month. The money comes from $300 million in added contributions of state employees and teachers passed in 2011. It is being set aside for the possible federal budget cuts from sequestration.
A $36.9 billion state budget for fiscal 2014 easily passed the House of Delegates and state Senate Friday, with less Republican opposition than last year. The budget raises overall spending 3% and is $500 million less than Gov. Martin O'Malley originally proposed, largely by setting aside funds in case federal budget cuts impact state revenues.
The Senate Budget and Taxation Committee voted Thursday to cut $100 million in contributions to the State Retirement and Pension System for fiscal 2014. The committee tied the unexpected move to passage of legislation that will eventually ensure the state puts aside enough money for employee and teachers pensions. But the cut also adds a year to achieving long-term funding goals for those pensions.
For most of the last decade, Maryland has been putting less money into the pension system for state employees and public school teachers than actuaries said it should, as much as $2.4 billion less.
For years, the trustees of the pension system have been urging the legislature to phase out the “corridor” method of funding. This year the General Assembly’s Joint Pension Committee has agreed to go along, and approved a plan to phase it out over the next 10 years.
Two of Maryland’s free-market think tanks are again attacking the Maryland pension system for spending too much money on investment advisors who are not producing enough returns. But the State Retirement Agency says the advisors have helped it reach its benchmark investment goals.