Democrats tangle with teachers over donation

Maryland Democrats and power brokers at the Maryland State Teachers Association are having a post-election disagreement about the mother's milk of politics -- money.

Democrats say the teachers promised them $15,000 to help finance this fall's election effort, a coordinated campaign for all the Democrats running for office in Maryland.


"We talked with MSTA about a larger contribution than wound up coming in," says Greg Pecoraro, the acting executive director of the Democratic Party.

"It was a disappointment, but overall the teachers made a terrific effort and we appreciate what they did do for us."


In all, the campaign expected $40,000: $15,000 from the teachers union in Maryland and $25,000 from its parent organization, the National Education Association. The national group came through.

"There was no commitment from MSTA," says Michael Butera, executive director of a union that has, in the past, tried to influence policy by providing or withholding money and working hard for or against candidates who vote its way.

Knowledgeable sources say the teachers union agreed to contribute $15,000 to the abortion-rights effort. That sum has not been forthcoming either. Mr. Butera insists it wasn't promised.

At first, sources say, he blamed Gov. William Donald Schaefer and top Democrats in the General Assembly, who are pushing a budget-balancing measure the teachers don't like.

The assembly is meeting in special session today to consider a proposal under which the state would save $147 million a year by canceling its payment covering Social Security taxes paid by local governments for teachers, library workers and community college employees.

If the employer's share of the tax is not paid by the state, local governments will have to pay, possibly leaving less for teachers.

Mr. Butera says he didn't think there was any misunderstanding about a contribution.

Had he and Mr. Pecoraro discussed the matter? "It would be fair to say we've discussed it," Mr. Butera says.


Was there any disagreement? "We have disagreements with both parties all the time. It's not unusual," Mr. Butera says.

MSTA's president, Jane Stern, says her 37,000-member organization did not vote to make a contribution to either the coordinated campaign or to supporters of the abortion-rights law. However, she says officials of both campaigns mistakenly thought commitments had been made by Mr. Butera.

When Mr. Pecoraro called to ask where the money was, she says, he was told that even had the union been inclined to make a contribution to the Democrats, it would not do so because party leaders in the assembly were "planning another hit on education."

"We'd like a little reciprocity," she says, while insisting that thteachers union had made no commitment.

Of new agendas and Curran events

It's called a public-policy forum, but it looks a lot like a campaign event.


Between 400 and 500 people are expected to contribute $100 each to hear Attorney General J. Joseph Curran outline his plan for developing "a new agenda for a new Maryland." He'll do it tomorrow at 6 p.m. at the Sheraton Towson.

Mr. Curran plans to put on a series of forums around the state over the next six months to learn what the voters want from government.

The money raised at tomorrow's event will be used partly to finance the forums, which Mr. Curran says will cost about $25,000.

He concedes the exercise is preliminary to making a decision on running for governor.

He has set up an office at 11 E. Lexington St. in Baltimore for what he calls "Joe Curran's Maryland 2000." The operation might well have been called "Joe Curran's Maryland 1994," since that is when the next race for governor will be run.

Each contributor has received a brochure raising a number of thorny questions such as: How can we protect the Chesapeake Bay without trampling over legitimate property rights? Should we fight drugs solely on the criminal front, or can significant victories be won on the health front as well?


Mr. Curran said he hopes voters "might be willing to listen and to develop alternative solutions."

He said he is probably a year away from deciding whether to enter the race for governor.

HTC "This whole process could just make me a better person in government," he said.