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House nixes amendment to shield Washington County from teacher-pension costs

March 22, 2012|By ANDREW SCHOTZ | andrews@herald-mail.com

ANNAPOLIS — An attempt by Del.John P. Donoghue on Thursday to shield Washington County from an expected shift in teacher-pension costs failed.

During a House of Delegates debate on the state budget, Donoghue, D-Washington, offered an amendment to award the county $1,775,000 through a wealth-based grant program.

That’s the same amount the county is estimated to pay in fiscal 2013 because of a pension-shift effort, under the House’s version of the proposed state budget.

Donoghue’s amendment on the House floor Thursday afternoon was defeated on a voice vote. Supporters then failed to act quickly enough to ask for a roll-call vote.

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Del. Tony McConkey, R-Anne Arundel, spoke in favor of Donoghue’s amendment, saying Washington County “is getting the short end of the stick.”

But Del. Melony G. Griffith, D-Prince George’s, the chairwoman of the House Appropriations Oversight Committee on Pensions, objected to the amendment.

Griffith said trying to add and remove counties in the grant program could last until the end of the legislative session.

The teachers retirement supplemental grant, or disparity grant, is given each year to counties with per-capita income-tax revenues less than 75 percent of the state average.

Washington County received the grant in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

The county would be eligible for $6.7 million in fiscal 2013. However, the legislature capped the program three years ago, preventing counties that weren’t eligible in fiscal year 2010 from getting back in.

The state Department of Legislative Services recommended this year that Washington, Cecil and Kent counties be added to the program, since they qualify.

Legislative services recommended that Washington County receive $2.7 million in fiscal  2013, about 40 percent of what it could have received if there were no cap.

House and Senate budget committees declined to include the agency’s recommendation in their versions of the proposed budget.

Donoghue said after his amendment failed that he still had hope that something can be negotiated in Washington County’s favor when the House and Senate conference committees meet later in the session to hammer out a final state budget.

He said he thinks legislators on the budget conference committee will think more favorably about Washington County if the county’s state representatives vote for the state budget plan.

Gov. Martin O’Malley, in the proposed budget he released in January, called for a shift of teacher-pension costs from the state to the counties starting in the coming fiscal year. The plan added Social Security payments, which counties pay, and pension contributions, which the state pays, then split the total, with each paying half.

Other measures were included to offset some of that new burden, helping some counties more than others.

Washington County would have had a net loss of about $2.4 million in the first year under the governor’s proposal.

The House and the Senate have altered that plan in their versions of the budget.

In the Senate version, Washington County would have a net gain of about $392,000 the first year, then net losses of about $440,000 the second year, $1.8 million the third year and $3.1 million the fourth year.

In the House version, Washington County would have a net loss of nearly $1.8 million.

McConkey later tried, in a separate amendment on the House floor, to establish a new list of counties getting disparity grants, including Washington County. The amendment failed 86-45.

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