Battle of Annapolis titans over teacher pensions
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller is diving head-first into one of the most contentious issues in Annapolis this year: teacher pensions.
With the Maryland facing a $2 billion budget deficit, some state officials have been rethinking the system by which the state pays all teacher pension costs. Gov. Martin O'Malley floated the idea recently of shifting teacher pension costs from the state to local governments. But when he submitted his budget proposal, he kept the current plan intact. The governor's budget includes more than $600 million for teacher pensions, an increase of more the $130 million.
But Miller wants to rethink things. He's prepared legislation to freeze the state contribution to teacher pensions at the level after this year's budget is adopted. Future additional pension costs -- driven by new hires and salary increases -- would be the responsibility of counties and Baltimore. He said today he plans to introduce the bill on Monday.
It's unusual for one of the General Assembly's presiding officers to put their name on such a controversial and substantive piece of legislation -- especially one that will enrage a crucial constituency of Miller's Democratic Party.
"The object of being a leader is to bring issues to the forefront, and I am going to put it out there and let them discuss it and see where it goes," Miller told reporters today.
Miller's argument: the state has no control over how many teachers school districts hire or how large pay increases are. The pension contribution is basically a local government subsidy, he says, not money for education.
Still, the influential president is acknowledging that his plan may not have much of chance. "It might not pass," he said, "but it is going to let people know what the truth is."
There's no way local government leaders or the state's influential teachers unions will sit still, however. Union leaders have already let it be known that they plan to aggressively come after anyone who backs the plan. Teachers are arguably the most influential lobbying corps in the capital of a state whose schools recently received the top ranking in the nation.
Forget Miller versus Busch. The real battle of the titans in Annapolis this year could be Miller versus teachers.