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House vote on teacher pension shift could come as early as Friday night

Harford's delegates and other House Republicans were still debating late Thursday afternoon a package of budget legislation the Maryland Senate passed nearly a week ago.

Local politicians don't approve of a big part of the package: shifting the cost of teacher pensions to the counties.

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"The package includes four bills: the budget bill, the [Budget Reconciliation and Financing Act], the maintenance of effort bill and the tax bill," Del. Kathy Szeliga wrote in an e-mail from the House floor. "The minority party offered up an amendment to the budget that would have level funded the budget … This measure did receive bi-partisan support, but failed by a large margin (47 for, 90 against). This measure would have fully funded education, police and fire services while protecting taxpayers against tax increases."

It's no secret local delegates — the majority of whom are Republican — have been vocal in their opposition to Gov. Martin O'Malley's — a Democrat — budget proposal for this coming fiscal year.

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Del. Rick Impallaria also reported from the House floor Thursday, saying the biggest battle the legislators were facing that day was "to do something to fix shifting these pensions to the county."

He added that suggestions to change this portion of the budget were crossing party lines — both Republicans and Democrats were offering amendments.

"The Democratic party is feeling heat from their own [constituents] on this," Impallaria said.

During a break in the budget debate, Del. Wayne Norman wrote in an e-mail that of the four budget bills they were discussing that day, the maintenance of effort bill, a state requirement on county governments to spend more money on education each year than they spent the previous year, "is the most onerous [bill] and will have major repercussions to the taxpayers of Maryland."

"Amendments have been prepared on that bill … to force the [maintenance of effort portion] to referendum," Norman added.

The Budget Reconciliation and Financing Act is what all eyes are on, as it contains the pension shift.

Sen. Barry Glassman voted against the pension shift and maintenance of effort bill last week when the Senate passed legislation that would shift pension costs to the county over a period of several years.

Sens. Nancy Jacobs and J.B. Jennings did not respond to e-mails asking for their stance on the issues.

Dels. Pat McDonough, Susan McComas Szeliga, Impallaria and Norman have all said they are against both bills.

"I have not voted for the last six budgets and will not vote for this current budget," McDonough wrote in an e-mail Monday. "This budget will be painful to Harford County. There will be reduced funding for the county teacher pensions and state funds."

If passed by the house, the pension shift would first come as a 50 percent phase-in in 2013, "which will cost Harford County $5,529,741," McComas wrote.

In 2014, a 75 percent phase-in would cost $8,087,426. The final 100 percent phase in 2015 would cost Harford County $10,549,195, she said.

As Glassman noted in an e-mail Monday, "The [maintenance of effort] bill will add this cost and others to the base line, which the county must fund or else run the risk of the comptroller [Peter Franchot] redirecting local income tax revenues directly to the school board without any local approval."

By 4 p.m. Thursday, Norman wrote that House had been working non-stop since 10 a.m. that morning and still had two bills to discuss.

He said there would be two sessions that day and again today (Friday).

If discussions go at the same rate as they did Thursday, Impallaria said a decision could possibly come by Friday evening.

One thing is for sure: Harford's delegates aren't going down without a fight.

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