Harford lawmakers line up against teacher pension shift

With less than a month before the 2012 Maryland General Assembly session adjourns, Harford County's legislators are just beginning to scrape the surface of what they hope to accomplish during this year's session.

That's not to say, however, that they haven't been busy, including keeping some proposals from passing, one of them being a shift of teacher pension costs from the state to the counties.

Since January, the general assembly has been hit with controversial issues ranging from same-sex marriage, the state's budget and Gov. Martin O'Malley's proposed gas and flush tax increases.

This week, the Senate will have the difficult task of voting in favor of or against a shift of teacher pension costs to the counties from the state — a change that at least two of Harford's representatives say they intend to oppose.

"The shift is really the shaft to our very dedicated and hard working teachers and retirees," wrote Del. Susan McComas in an e-mail Tuesday. "As their representative, I have received a number of e-mails from teachers as well as retirees that are extremely concerned about the ramifications of any shift."

McComas added that Harford County Executive David Craig, the Harford County Council, the county Board of Education and several teachers unions also don't support the shift of costs.

"The governor's proposal to shift the pensions is just one more destabilizing assault on the good citizens of Harford County and the State of Maryland," McComas wrote. "When individuals retire they need predictability, not uncertainty in their budgets."

Sen. Barry Glassman opposes the shift unless the state's maintenance of effort law is amended. Called MOE for short, the law mandates what counties must fund for their local schools based on a formula tied to enrollment and other factors.

"Although things are still fairly fluid, the normal cost approach, [the current cost of retirement for active employees], and four-year phase-in softens the fiscal blow to the county," Glassman wrote Tuesday. "When you combine it with the language in the current maintenance of effort bill, it still is damaging to the county's fiscal future."

If a waiver in education spending is not granted to the maintenance of effort bill, Glassman says Comptroller of Maryland Peter Franchot can re-direct a county's income tax revenue and give it directly to that county's board of education.

"I am currently working to get that provision amended out of the MOE bill," Glassman wrote. "We have always done MOE in Harford, but this bill would allow the over-riding [of] tax caps and re-direction of county income taxes without local approval."

According to Harford County Public Schools legislative liaison Kathy Carmello, the Senate is most likely to approve the pension shift with the House likely to follow.

The pension shift isn't the first proposal by O'Malley that Harford's legislators have opposed this session.

In January, senators and delegates spoke out against the governor's proposal to extend the 6 percent state sales tax to gasoline purchases — a plan which legislators say hasn't died yet, but is still creeping around in the halls of the State House.

Western Harford Del. Pat McDonough has called the gasoline sales tax "a negative tax on working people."

Last month, all of Harford County's legislators voted against the same-sex marriage bill, which passed the Senate and House by a slim margin. No one changed his or her stance from last year when the bill was on the floor but did not pass the House.

"I have always voted against this bill. I believe that the definition of marriage should stay as it now stands — between a man and a woman," Sen. Nancy Jacobs wrote soon after the Senate passed the bill in February.

It hasn't been all opposition from Harford's delegates, though.

In the session so far, the Harford County House delegation has voted in favor of several local bills, some of which are likely headed to passage, including:

HB-321 — Authorizes the hunting of deer on specified Sundays on private property.

HB-1398 — Allows the county's veterans' organizations operate slot machines.

HB-1326 — Earmarks $20 of the $25 fee for performing courthouse marriage ceremonies for the Historical Society of Harford County.

HB-204 – Requires that an applicant for an alcoholic beverage license must reside in Harford County for at least one year. The current law states that the license applicant only needs to be a resident "at the time" of filing the application; however, another license regulation already uses the one-year residency standard.

HB-205 – Removes a seasonal limitation on when a wine festival can be held in the county, leaving the time to the discretion of Harford's liquor control board.

HB-248 – Removes a requirement from the class C-3 club license that the facility have at least six tennis courts. This will open the license class to golf and other private clubs that don't have tennis facilities.

HB 214 – Allows Harford Community College to incur debt, including entering into long-term financing and lease-purchase agreements.

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