At a Valentine’s Day council meeting, the Prince George’s County Council sent a strong statement to Gov. Martin O’Malley that shifting the burden of state pensions to counties is a bad idea.

Councilwoman Ingrid Turner, D.-Dist. 4, also the president of the Maryland Association of Counties (MaCo), asks how counties should be expected to pay for teacher pensions when they’re not even county employees.

“The teachers are state employees of the state board,” Turner said. “It’s been like this for 85 years. The House needs to get e-mails and visits from us. They also need to e-mails from our citizens and our leaders.”

O’Malley has been trying to shift this cost for the past two years. The measure failed in the Maryland General Assembly last year and will be a major point of contention this year.

The O’Malley administration contends pension costs are driven by teacher salaries, which are determined by the counties those costs should be shifted to the counties. Boards of Educations across the state negotiate contracts under state law. Governing bodies have no control over that and generally have little control over what school boards do with their budgets.

“His reason for shifting it is false. It’s not grounded,” Turner said. “We just want to bring clarity to that and say ‘if you think you’re going to fix the problem or fix the challenge the state has then that’s not solving the problem.’”

Currently, local jurisdictions pay only social security for teachers which O’Malley’s office says is only one-third of the combined cost of teacher pensions. The governor’s office says if this measure is passed it would increase local revenue, enhance aid to less wealthy jurisdictions and provide specific budget relief.

However, at a price-tag of $34 million, the county council says its way too expensive and will force cuts in other areas of education. A task the council is not interested in undertaking.

“This is really a cut in education,” Council Vice-Chairman Eric Olson, D.-Dist. 3, said.

“Once you push that pension to the localities; where’s that money going to come from? It’s going to come from our education budgets in our county and other counties all across the state. For a state that’s been No. 1 in schools the past four years that’s not a path we should be going down.”

Todd Turner, a legislative officer for the council and alternative representative for MaCo, said if the bill is ratified then the state’s localities will have to negotiate with the state for more control over teacher salaries.

“We’re fighting this shift, but if in a couple weeks from now or a month from now we have to go to another position about we know this is coming and then we have to deal with it in some way,” Turner said. “That’s when we start to talk about whose responsible for it, over what period of time, what the issues are if you give us the bill and we should have the authority to negotiate the terms of the employment.

“We need to put it back in the state’s hand because the state, in all honesty, has created the issue,” he continued.

NOTE: Todd and Ingrid Turner are of no relation

George Barnette

Special to the AFRO