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Delegation must bend to get prison pay hikes

March 07, 2006

The Maryland General Assembly's 2006 session has reached its halfway point. Like the early rounds of a boxing match, the legislature's Democrat leaders have been sparring with Republican Gov. Robert Ehrlich.

But unlike a heavyweight fight, a knockout by one side or the other won't be a victory for the citizens of Maryland.

One key issue stands out so far - Gov. Ehrlich's proposal to give correctional officers a 6 percent raise and make it retroactive to January.

Making the raise retroactive would add $15 million to the cost and set a bad precedent, according to House Speaker Michael Busch, D-Anne Arundel.

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But consider this: Except for cost-of-living adjustments, officers haven't had a real raise in 15 years.

Busch asked why Ehrlich didn't put the raise in his fiscal year 2006 budget, but that brings up another question: Why didn't the Democrats do something for the correctional officers during all the years they held control of the governor's office?

If Busch and other Democratic leaders' problem is with the retroactivity, there is a simple solution to that: Bump the raise up to 7 percent and let it take effect in July. The officers would get their money, a bad precedent would be avoided and everyone should be happy.

Will that happen? Unfortunately, that's unlikely, because to cooperate on such a solution would give Ehrlich a symbolic victory.

What should matter is that correctional officers who risk their lives every day are losing ground economically at the same time that many of them perceive that top officials of the Department of Public Safety do not share their concerns about security and staffing.

We recommend that the delegation continue what it started in January when members did a bit of horse trading with Montgomery County delegates.

If it means going against the governor on another issue, so be it. Washington County delegates are elected to resent the interests of their constituents, n o matter what party affiliation they have.

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