Delegate: House unlikely to pass pension proposal
Some say vote to shift costs to counties was rushed
The head of the Montgomery County House delegation said Thursday the House of Delegates is unlikely to pass a Senate proposal that shifts some of the costs of teacher pensions to the counties.
"I think the Montgomery delegation will be strongly opposed," said Chairman Brian J. Feldman (D-Dist. 15) of Potomac. "You simply cannot muster the votes on the House side."
On March 21, the Senate, in a 28-19 vote, approved the shift of teacher pension costs, a move that some politicians and school administrators called surprising.
"We just sprung this on everybody," said Sen. Nancy J. King (D-Dist. 39) of Montgomery Village, a member of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee who voted against the proposal. "There are a lot of unanswered questions. You have to give a lot of people a chance to talk about it; that's how plans work out here."
Last week, Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr., a member of the delegation, recommended to the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee a shift of some of the pension costs to the counties as part of the fiscal 2011 budget. The committee approved the measure in a 12-3 vote March 19.
State information shows that Montgomery County could be hit the hardest by a shift in who foots the bill for pensions.
"Rich [Madaleno] being the budget wonk that he is, he may know way more [about the budget] than anyone else on the committee," King said.
Madaleno proposed shifting the teacher pension costs without consulting with the Montgomery County Council or any member of the county delegation to the General Assembly, said Montgomery County Councilwoman Valerie Ervin (D-Dist. 5) of Silver Spring.
"I'm sure that he has a game plan," said Ervin, chairwoman of the council's Education Committee. "I just don't know what it is."
On Thursday, Madaleno (D-Dist. 18) of Kensington disagreed with Ervin's assertion.
"I'm sorry she feels she was uninformed about this," he said. "Every member of the Senate delegation was informed, as were several county officials. I can't be held accountable for what gets transmitted around Rockville."
Local officials, Madaleno said, have become more understanding of why he proposed the plan as he has discussed it with them.
"It was very clear from the discussion over in the committee that a pension plan was going to be passed this year," he said. "I had a choice to sit back, say no and watch a detrimental plan be passed or participate and try to shape a plan that was less damaging to county governments, including our own.
"It was either get on board and come up with a plan that was the least objectionable or get rolled."
Also, Madaleno said, his proposal was the only one that didn't begin in fiscal 2011.
Sen. J. Lowell Stoltzfus, who also sits on the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee, said local governments must shoulder more of the pension costs, especially in the current economic climate.
As for the counties, "I think we've treated them more than fairly, and I think they need to understand that we can't keep growing like it has in the past," said Stoltzfus (R-Dist. 38) of Westover. "They're well aware that this has been in consideration."
Within a year, Madaleno said, the state's spending on teacher pensions is going to eclipse its spending on higher education. "The required minimum contribution to the pension system is scheduled to double over the next four years."
The Senate committee's decision still must be approved by the full House as part of the fiscal 2011 budget.
Under the plan, counties would assume 1 percent of the wage-based pension costs in fiscal 2012, which begins July 1, 2011.
Counties would increase their contribution to 3 percent in fiscal 2013 and 5 percent in fiscal 2014 and fiscal 2015, which, when coupled with the counties' current responsibility to fund Social Security payments as the employer of the teachers and faculty, is roughly 50 percent of the total combined retirement costs.
Shifting the pension costs would cost Montgomery County more money than other counties, according to state information. In fiscal 2012, it would cost the county $13 million; $41 million in fiscal 2013; $69 million in fiscal 2014, and $70 million in fiscal 2015.
Prince George's County, the state's second-largest county, also could be hit hard under the pension cost shift, according to state information.
In fiscal 2012, it would cost Prince George's $9.2 million; $27 million in fiscal 2013; $45 million in fiscal 2014, and $45 million in fiscal 2015.
"We need to invest more in Prince George's schools, not less," said Sen. James C. Rosapepe (D-Dist. 21) of College Park, who voted against the shift in pension costs. "I'm hopeful that the House is going to reject it."
The Senate's approved budget now goes to the House of Delegates. If the delegates disagree with the Senate's proposal, it goes to a conference committee of state legislators to reach an agreement. Legislators have until April 12 to vote on the pension proposal or introduce a new proposal.
Last year, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Dist. 27) of Chesapeake Beach filed legislation to shift the pension costs to the counties, arguing that 40 percent of the state budget is spent on pensions.
Ultimately, legislation to shift the pension costs failed in the last session.
This year, any shift in pension costs would be "devastating to each and every one of the 24 local school systems," said John R. Woolums, director of government relations for the Maryland Association of Boards of Education.
"The magnitude of this shift is startling. It's alarming that the Maryland Senate overwhelmingly approved a shift of nearly $1 billion to the local school systems without prior notice."
Staff writers Alan Brody and
Erin Cunningham contributed
to this report.