In a contentious, sometimes, emotional hearing on March 23, Maryland’s state senators wrangled over the state’s budget, trying to strike the delicate balance between funding programs and cutting the state’s deficit.

However, for Prince George’s County, the hearing proved to be beneficial. Contention over the formula the state uses in calculating net-taxable income for the county was resolved, netting Prince George’s $18 million in disparity grant funding.  The county delegation made the argument that the calculations made the county seem as if it had more money than it really did.

“We now have a more accurate picture of wealth in the state of Maryland,” said Del. Melony Ghee Griffith, D-Dist. 25.  “Therefore the disparity grant being reformulated with that new information does not penalize Prince George’s County as heavily as using the earlier dates.”

The new bill changes the date by which income taxes need to be filed from August to November, a change, officials said, will work in Prince George’s favor.
The measure still has to be approved in the House of Delegates, but county Sens.  Douglas J.J. Peters  and Ulysses Currie, D-Dist. 25, are taking further measures to get additional funding.

“We’ve got another bill…that would change the calculations for the schools and that would yield another $12 million,” said Peters.  “We’re working hard to try to fill-in those gaps.”

In another significant move, senators shifted the burden of teacher’s pensions from the state to individual counties. 

Opinions among Prince George’s senators were split between two, who supported the measure and six who did not.  Considering the county’s current fiscal woes, said Peters, who opposed, adding another $130 million in cost over the next five years was not feasible.

“I am not interested in raising any taxes and the only way I can see making that difference up is cutting,” Peters said. “I feel like if the state is really focused on education then it should fully fund the teacher’s pension so I cannot agree with that decision.”

However, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, D.-Dist 27, whose district lies in both Prince George’s and Calvert counties, praised the decision.  He said it would help the state fund teacher pensions and help fix Maryland’s budget deficit.

“We took steps in this budget to tackle unfunded liabilities and to start the long-overdue process of reforming our retirement system to protect benefits for retirees,” Miller told the Washington Post. “It would be a dereliction of duty if we did not move forward on meaningful pension reform this year.”

However, in a House session on March 26, the measure was blocked.  The state’s delegates say there was no need to make such a drastic change yet.

“We get our funding from employer contributions, which is the state, employee contributions and from the returns we get on investments,” said Griffith.  “We’re in a defined benefit program which means employees know what their benefits are going to be. 

“We’ve been looking at all those things and felt it would be premature for us to make a change in one major area.  The Senate proposal would make a change in terms of who’s making the employer contribution without looking at all the other areas.”

The House will debate the budget beginning April 1.

 

George Barnette

Special to the AFRO