The Daily Times, an Eastern Shore paper, published today a scathing editorial critical of the Governor’s plan to shift pension costs. Entitled “Pension Shift Lacks Rationale,” the paper outlines many arguments that Maryland county leaders have been underscoring as part of the ongoing debate over state fiscal issues.
From the editorial:
As Worcester County officials fearful of the pension shift have been hollering for months, our public schools are creatures of the state more than of the counties. Local school boards follow state-set educational standards; the superintendents they hire answer to state officials in Baltimore, not their own counties’ elected leaders. Wicomico, Worcester and Somerset county leaders — the “localities” — have no say at all in teacher salaries and the resulting pension liabilities. The school boards negotiate them with teachers’ labor groups.
While the counties can’t set teacher salaries, they still end up largely funding the cost of the paychecks. More than four-fifths of Worcester’s schools operating budget, for instance, arrives in one big annual grant from the county — meaning, it’s paid for county property and income taxes. It’s a necessary arrangement when school boards have no independent taxing authority.
If the goal of this reform is to end a perceived “sweet deal” for the “localities,” it’s going to be wildly ineffective. The county governments will remain in the same position after reform: They pay much of the bills for school systems over which they have no immediate, direct cost control. In fact, it will heighten the contradictions of the arrangement, making counties bear even more of the cost of compensating state-guided employees whom the counties don’t supervise.
This proposal seems to be in the budget on the “because we can” principle, and to relieve Gov. O’Malley of having to call for more revenue increases than he already is. If it leads some counties to raise taxes in desperation, at least you can say you saw it coming.