ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller wants to expand the scope of a fall special session on congressional redistricting to cover the state’s structural deficit, teacher pension costs and transportation funding concerns.
In a letter dated Monday to Gov. Martin O’Malley, the Senate president outlined three areas he would like to address. Miller devoted much of the three-page letter to urging action on sharing teacher pension costs with local governments. A copy of the letter was obtained by The Associated Press on Wednesday.
Miller has been an advocate of shifting some pension costs to local governments. He wrote that O’Malley had indicated before this year’s regular session that he wanted to focus on addressing the state’s unfunded pension liabilities, a plan the General Assembly approved in April.
“Once this difficult goal was accomplished, you indicated that the next step would be working on an equitable sharing of teachers’ pension costs with their employers, the local governments,” Miller, D-Calvert, wrote in a letter that was also sent to House Speaker Michael Busch, D-Anne Arundel, and members of the House and Senate.
O’Malley, a Democrat, was not available for comment, and a spokesman did not immediately return an e-mail seeking comment.
Miller noted how high teacher pension costs have risen in recent years. Six years ago, the cost to the state was $475 million. The required contribution this year was more than $954 million. Next year, the cost is projected to rise to $1.07 billion — $60 million more in general funds than the state is spending on the entire University System of Maryland this year.
Maryland is one of the few states that pays all teacher pension costs. Miller wrote that next year’s costs will equal the state’s entire structural deficit of about $1.1 billion.
“There is simply no policy justification for the state funding the entire cost of this subsidy to local governments next year,” Miller wrote. “Teachers bargain with local school boards without one of their biggest benefits even connected to the bargaining table. Local governments freely raise salaries even in some of the worst economic times in history with no regard to the costs that must be then paid by state taxpayers.”
Miller pointed out that recent public discussions have focused on how to raise transportation revenues.
While the Senate president noted that he supports raising transportation revenue, he underscored that lawmakers do not have a constitutional obligation to balance the state’s transportation budget. Maryland must submit a balanced state budget every year.
When lawmakers convene this fall, Miller says lawmakers should come into the special session with “a carefully and jointly crafted plan” to address the teacher pension issue, close the remainder of the state’s structural deficit with increased revenue and address transportation needs by calling for “greater contributions from the users and beneficiaries of our public infrastructure.”
“You have my strong support and commitment to assist you in these efforts,” Miller wrote. “In that regard, I would ask that we start meeting as soon as possible with legislative leaders of both parties in the General Assembly to move these issues forward.”
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)