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O’Malley Talks About Teacher Pensions And Tolls

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ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley said Monday he has always favored the state paying teacher pension costs, but he will keep an open mind during debate on whether to shift some of the cost to counties.

O’Malley, speaking on WTOP-FM’s “Ask the Governor” program, also suggested the state should consider indexing tolls to keep up with inflation costs for transportation infrastructure.

The debate on whether Maryland should shift some teacher pension costs to local governments has been simmering in recent years as costs have ballooned. Five years ago, the cost was about $475 million, but it was $978 million this year. It’s expected to rise to $1.3 billion in three years.

“I have always been in favor of keeping it at the state level,” O’Malley, who was Baltimore’s Democratic mayor before he became governor in 2007. “Look, we faced an equity issue in our state. Poor jurisdictions with lower tax bases were not able to give their children, provide their children, an equitable education. Part of the way we offset that is through this common platform of ours known as the state of Maryland.”

During the radio interview, O’Malley also talked about toll increases that are being considered. A proposal by the Maryland Transportation Authority that would raise tolls from $2.50 to $5 and to $8 in July 2013 on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge has been criticized by vocal residents who use the bridge regularly.

O’Malley, who said the toll hasn’t been raised since 1973, said he thought $8 was very high.

“I hope and have encouraged them to go back to the drawing board and find a more modest and reasonable way to keep pace with inflation there,” O’Malley said.

Still, the governor said tolls need to go up to help pay for bonds needed for infrastructure such as the Intercounty Connector in the Maryland suburbs of Washington and for the widening of Interstate 95 north of White Marsh.

“All of the tolls, if you keep them flat for too long, I mean, they have to keep pace,” O’Malley said. “Probably what we should do is index them somehow.”

O’Malley, who said Saturday at the summer conference of the Maryland Association of Counties in Ocean City that Maryland needs to be open to tax increases as well as cuts in addressing budget problems and transportation infrastructure concerns, avoided elaborating on how he thought the state should raise new revenue.

“I think we have to be especially open at the state level to a balanced approach of cuts and also looking at revenues,” O’Malley said.

In response to a listener who asked the governor why property taxes have not been reduced to reflect steep drops in home values, O’Malley suggested property assessments should perhaps be done on a yearly basis, rather than once every three years. He urged the caller to file an appeal with the Maryland Department of Assessments and Taxation, if she believed her property tax was out of line with its market value.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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