Yesterday we heard from various County stakeholders including MCPS, Montgomery College, UFCW Local 1994 MCGEO, SEIU Local 500, MCEA, Library advocates, Arts advocates and HHS advocates with one unified voice that we must stop the Governor's proposed pension shift or face dire reductions to the array of services we provide that have made our County so special. And today, I took that message to Annapolis and stood alongside Stop the Shift Coalition members from around the State.
Governor O'Malley has proposed shifting half the cost of teacher and other pensions from the state to the counties. The County Council, County Executive Ike Leggett, and our counterparts throughout the state, strongly oppose this shift. As UFCW Local 1994 President Gino Renne said today, the shift "will erode our already depleted services and exacerbate the current budget challenges we face."
For Montgomery County, the proposed pension shift would cost $47 million in Fiscal Year 2013 and $315 million over the next five years.
How much is $47 million? It pays for the jobs of nearly 500 teachers, firefighters, police officers, and other vital County personnel. It is more than the County's general fund budgets for housing, transportation, and environmental protection combined. Our entire budget for libraries is $28 million.
The recessionary County budgets of the past three years required painful cuts that have seriously affected our residents and employees alike. For the coming year we face a further budget gap of $135 million and more hard decisions. If we now have to absorb another large burden from the state, there will be real damage to all our vital services—our schools, college, police, fire and rescue, safety net, libraries, parks, housing, transportation, recreation, and many others.
I understand that the state too must balance its budget and faces hard choices. But it is the State that sets the basic structure of pension benefits. In 2006 the state raised pension benefits by 29 percent, retroactive to 1998, but failed to provide sufficient funding. In fact, the state's financial support for the pension fund has fallen short for many years. Counties should not be asked to assume financial responsibility for costs not of their making. We have cut services to the bone, and we have reached our statutory limit on taxes.
Elected officials and concerned organizations throughout the state, including the Maryland Association of Counties, the school community, and employee organizations, have joined together to convey this message to the Governor and the General Assembly. The coalition's web address is www.stoptheshiftmd.com . There you can learn how you can make a difference. The General Assembly will make its decision on the pension shift soon, probably by mid-March. The stakes for all our County residents are very high.
Join our stop the shift coalition and help us to ensure that these drastic cuts don't befall our County.
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