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Lawmakers give back money

February 04, 2009|By ERIN CUNNINGHAM

ANNAPOLIS -- When it was announced in December that state employees would be required to take unpaid leave to help balance this year's budget, most members of Washington County's delegation to the Maryland General Assembly said they also would voluntarily give up a portion of their salaries.

According to state records, six members of the delegation have followed through on their promise - though to varying degrees and in different ways. Two members of the delegation did not file paperwork with the state and will instead give money to charity, they said.

Most chose to give the maximum amount that state workers were asked to give, which would be the equivalent of five days pay. That was about $600 for lawmakers, who receive a salary of $43,500.

Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, made arrangements to have five days of pay returned to the state despite the fact that at his salary level, he would have sacrificed four days of pay had he been required to participate in the statewide furloughs.

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Munson said he made that decision because he told The Herald-Mail in December that he would give that amount.

"I had no idea I was not in that income bracket," Munson said. "But I told you I was going to do it. My constituents are hurting, and I just feel like I have a responsibility to be sensitive to their pain."

Sen. George C. Edwards, R-Garrett/Allegany/Washington, also participated, according to state documents, and pledged to give up five days of pay.

Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, also is having five days of pay taken from his salary. The money will be taken over several pay periods, with the first one occurring this month.

"I'm a lot lighter this month," Shank said. "It's definitely noticeable. But I wanted to set an example ... and make the same sacrifice that workers are required to make."

Shank said Gov. Martin O'Malley should not have required state workers to take unpaid leave, and instead should have cut the budget, starting with the $1.3 billion in new spending approved during the General Assembly's special session last year.

Del. LeRoy E. Myers Jr., R-Washington/Allegany, said that giving up five days of pay - about $600 - back to the state was the least he could do.

"There are those who are being unfairly and unjustly asked to give up some hard-earned dollars," he said.

For some workers, losing that money could mean bills go unpaid and groceries are harder to buy.

"In today's world, that might be the make or break of whether they can make their house payment or not," Myers said.

Del. Andrew A. Serafini, R-Washington, also returned five days worth of his salary to the state, but said he's uncomfortable portraying that decision as a sacrifice on his part. He said being a legislator is not his full-time job, and he was making the decision voluntarily - unlike state workers who were forced to take the unpaid leave.

Del. Richard B. Weldon Jr., who is unaffiliated and represents parts of Washington and Frederick counties, also participated, according to state documents, and pledged to give up five days of pay.

Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington, said he plans to give even more money than his pay scale would have required. However, he will give only half of the money to the state and donate the remainder to Holly Place, a group home on South Potomac Street for low-income senior citizens, several of whom have physical or mental disabilities. Though giving five days of pay would mean $604.20 for Donoghue, he said he'll likely give $500 to the state and $500 to Holly Place from his personal money. He has not filed paperwork with the state to have the money deducted from his paychecks, according to a response to an information request filed with the state.

In addition, Donoghue said he plans to give $500 of his campaign funds to Holly Place.

"We're all in this together, and I'm going to do my part and go above and beyond, and I'm looking forward to getting out of this mess just like everyone else is," he said. "If state employees can make the sacrifice ... I also am a state employee, and I serve the state and I am more than willing to do that."

Sen. Alex X. Mooney, R-Frederick/Washington, gave up four days of pay, which would have totaled about $483. However, he rounded up, and gave $500, which he has split between two charities that serve Frederick and Washington counties.

A check he sent to Care Net in Frederick, Md., for $250 already has been cashed, Mooney said. Care Net provides services and support to help women who have unplanned pregnancies keep their babies.

"It gives them an alternative to abortion," Mooney said.

He sent another $250 check Tuesday to the Frederick Rescue Mission.

"I wanted to keep the money local to Washington and Frederick counties," Mooney said. "I could tell the budget last year was out of balance, so I did not vote for the budget last year. There's a tendency to spend more money than you have."

Mooney said he decided to donate his money to charity instead of returning it to the state because he did not want to give money to a state budget that he feels does not treat Frederick and Washington counties fairly.

"I prefer to keep my donations local," he said.

Those lawmakers who gave donations to charity in lieu of having money taken directly from their paychecks and returned to the state are eligible to receive a tax exemption on that money. If a lawmaker wrote a check directly to the state, instead of having the money taken from their paychecks, that money also can count as a charitable donation for tax purposes, said Caron Brace, a spokeswoman for the Comptroller of Maryland.

Money taken directly from paychecks is not tax deductible, she said, because money that was never received cannot be taxed.

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