Analysis: O’Malley co-opts protest of his own budget

By Len Lazarick

It was a bizarre finale to a rally that brought thousands of state workers and teachers to Annapolis to protest cuts in pensions, retirement benefits and pupil spending. The last speaker was none other than the man who had triggered the rally by proposing the cuts: Gov. Martin O’Malley.

Union rally fills Bladen Street near State House.

“I don’t like this budget either,” O’Malley said in a short speech. He was met by cheers, some grumbling, and the evening’s chant of “Keep the Promise.”

He proclaimed his strong support for collective bargaining rights for public workers.

“Our state is not like other states,” the governor said. “You will not find in Maryland the sort of Midwestern oppression that you find in Ohio and Wisconsin.”

The mixed messages at the rally were a sign of the co-dependency between the public officials who rely on teachers and unions for their base of support and the public employee unions that rely on the governor for their funding.

In January, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees was wrapping up negotiations on a new contract that granted employees a bonus, eliminated the furloughs of the preceding three years and established the agency fee that even non-members must pay to the union. At the same time, the governor was crafting a budget that cut pension benefits unless employees contributed more and that would force retirees to pay more for retirement benefits.

“They took us by surprise,” said AFSCME deputy director Sue Esty at a news conference last week. What’s more, the extra money that employees would pay to retain current benefits is not going into the pension fund, which is $18 billion in the hole, but is being used to balance next year’s budget, putting off full funding of the pension system for 11 years.

After the rally that saw a parade of teachers, students, retirees and current workers decry the proposed cuts, David Helfman, the executive director of the Maryland State Education Association – the teachers union — issued a statement: “Tonight, the governor reacted to 15,000 Marylanders who urged him to keep the promise.  With the General Assembly session down to the final four weeks, it’s clear that new ideas and real leadership are needed to move Maryland forward. We are prepared to add the ideas and voices of Maryland’s educators and are counting on the governor to demonstrate the leadership we need.”

(The Department of General Services estimated that the rally attendance was about 7,000 based on 150 buses at the Navy stadium and other locations. UPDATE: MSEA counted 204 buses with about 50 people to a bus, so 10,200, and thousands more by car and on foot.  Click here to see a photo gallery.)

The unions are proposing “a balanced approach” to the deficit. To them, “balanced approach” means higher taxes on alcohol, corporations, snacks, and possibly millionaires.

Demonstrators protest union rally.

O’Malley’s budget is balanced with no new taxes, but he has left the clear message that he is open to tax increases. At a United Seniors rally last week, Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown was asked if there were any taxes that had been proposed that the governor would be unwilling to sign. The answer is no.

The House Appropriations Committee is scheduled to make it decisions on O’Malley’s budget this week. The state constitution only permits them to cut it, not add to it. If the committee cuts too deeply beyond what O’Malley has proposed, pressure could build for higher taxes.

Opponents of higher taxes were outshouted in the streets near the State House Monday night. While thousands clamored to “Keep the Promise,” about 50 to 75 protesters carrying inflated pig balloons mounted a counter-rally objecting to “union bosses” and tax increases.

Bernadette Zgorski of Churchville carried one of the less provocative signs: “It’s about shared sacrifice.”

State workers need to understand that revenues are not coming in, she said, though she finds many of them clueless to the fiscal realities.

“We don’t have the money anymore.”

“I am the face of the unemployed, of the senior citizens on fixed incomes,” Zgorski said. She and they cannot afford any tax hikes, she said.

About The Author

Len Lazarick

Len Lazarick was the founding editor and publisher of and is currently the president of its nonprofit corporation and chairman of its board He was formerly the State House bureau chief of the daily Baltimore Examiner from its start in April 2006 to its demise in February 2009. He was a copy editor on the national desk of the Washington Post for eight years before that, and has spent decades covering Maryland politics and government.


  1. SouthernPackers

    I will never understand how a State in the union of the United States would do this to there employees…How can you tell me that I have to pay for something that I never wanted in the first place??? At this day and time when we’re on the way to coming out of a recession?? What does the State owe to Afscme? I don’t think they owe tehm anything they came to the state and asked to represent our state employees and now say that they want the state employees to pay for there cost… Something smells kinda funny…How do they think the 30 to 40,000 people who will be expected to pay this “Fee” should feel??? If it is’nt the health care taking the raise now Afscme will take it….Only in America or in this case Maryland….

    • Sheeplepeople

      What are we going to do about it ? We should be making a stand and run the unions out. This is against the law what they are about to do ,taking money with out my permission is stealing or robbery make you choice.  I’TS UNCONSITTUTIONAL  and we have rights if we stick togeather .

  2. jrsposter

    Bernadette Zgorski of Churchville carried one of the less provocative signs: “It’s about shared sacrifice.”

    I agree. The sacrifice should be shared. But how can it be shared sacrifice when this year saw a cut of 2 percentage points on income taxes for the portions of incomes in excess of one million dollars a year? That additional 2% would not have kicked in on any income of less than $1 million. It would have applied only to amounts above that threshold.

    So, the proposal is to cut the take-home pay of teachers by 2% when we have raised the take-home pay on income over $1 million by 2%. Is it any wonder that teachers were protesting?

    Read more:
    Under Creative Commons License: Attribution

  3. Abigail Adams

    MOM has to keep up his political image as a Democratic hero. He won’t raise taxes, the legislature will. State workers had to know this was in the cards yet they voted the Dems back in power. Stimulus $$ kept the pump primed for the past 2 years, now it has run dry. Protest marches may shake the spineless legislators but not the over taxed private sector workers in MD. How much more will we have to poney up for the privilege of living in the Free State?

  4. Jmbeall

    what the flying fuck! i now have to join a union i want no part of? unions are for those who won’t do their jobs and then need backup to save them. let me keep my furlough days! they are better than paying these fuckers! quote me! John Michael Beall

  5. John Brooks

    This is crazy, O’Malley does nothing but bankrupt this state, wonders why businesses ship and package their jobs out for Virginia or greener pastures. O’Malley didnt meet a tax he didnt like. This state is doomed to tyrannical Democrats. Thank goodness for my Eastern Shore Republicans in Cecil County. No to union dues to a union you dont want to be a apart of if Trumka doesnt like that then well that is a novelty then too bad. How bad he open his fat pockets out, the robber.

  6. Felix

    Nothing like being a state employee and being forced to pay union dues to a union you don’t want to be apart of….Since my dues don’t go anywhere but a slush fund to assist the next democratic governor in getting elected…Its ashame that allot of great skilled experienced state employees are seeking employment elsewhere when they are so valuable to our state government. They can say what they want but moral is at a all time low.


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