In a joint letter to The Gazette, Montgomery County Council President Roger Berliner and Prince George’s County Council Chairwoman Andrea Harrison presented how shifting the pension would produce financial hardships upon the counties.
Montgomery County and Prince George’s County face many challenges in maintaining and improving the quality of life for our residents in this very difficult economy. Those challenges will become practically insurmountable if the governor’s proposal to shift teacher pension costs from the state to local governments is adopted. Indeed, vital county services would suffer, including public safety, education, transportation, libraries and health and human services.
We appreciate that the state budget must be balanced and that the governor and legislature have difficult choices to make. We must balance our budgets every year as well, and our choices are even starker in part because we have much less ability to raise revenue than the state has. We are at the limits of our capacity to raise revenue. Our only recourse will be to cut, cut, and cut some more.
The recessionary budgets of the past three years have already required severe cuts to county agencies and personnel statewide. For example, since fiscal year 2009, Montgomery County’s budget for libraries, one of the most important services, is down 30 percent, and the total county workforce has fallen from about 10,000 jobs to 9,000.
Over the past three fiscal years, Prince George’s County has been forced to scale back or eliminate public safety recruitment classes, health and human services programs and library services, as well as impose 20 days of furloughs for employees, eliminate employee pay increases and impose hiring freezes and reductions in force.
The county is now projecting the need to close a $126 million budget gap for fiscal year 2013, which does not include the additional estimated $34 million in costs for the teacher pension shift. In counties throughout the state, the pension cost shift would put further pressure on thousands of jobs for police, firefighters, social workers and other key personnel.
Both counties face still another year of large budget gaps. Yet, in fiscal year 2013, the governor’s plan would shift $47 million in pension costs to Montgomery and $34 million to Prince George’s. Over the next five years, the pension shift would cost $315 million for Montgomery and $226 million for Prince George’s.
Shifting the pension burden would produce non-stop fiscal turmoil for county taxpayers and employees. It would be a mistake of historic proportions.
To read the full letter, click here.