Legislators favor law disclosing benefits County's pension budget drained by lower retirement age

July 08, 1993|By John Rivera | John Rivera,Staff Writer

Several members of Anne Arundel County's General Assembly delegation endorsed the idea of state legislation to make public the pension benefits of elected and appointed officials.

But at least one member warned that there might be opposition to such a bill among members of the General Assembly.

Del. John G. Gary, R-Millersville, said that if he and Del. Michael E. Busch, D-Cape St. Claire, who chairs the county delegation, were to introduce such legislation, "I think we're going to have one hell of a battle with it. . . . I suspect it's not going to be welcomed with open arms."

The information became confidential as part of a 1982 bill that overhauled the state pension system. Mr. Gary said that debate on the bill centered on the question of whether "after a person has served their time, don't they have a right to be a private citizen? And a private citizen's pension is confidential."

The County Council unanimously passed a resolution Tuesday night urging the county's state delegates to initiate legislation disclosing public officials' pension benefits while they are in office.

The request comes in the wake of disclosures that the county's pension budget for elected and appointed officials is only about half-funded.

A bill passed by the council in 1989 lowering the retirement age to 50 and raising the benefits paid to elected and appointed officials helped drain the pension fund. A bill passed last month raised the minimum retirement age to 55 with 30 years service, and provided a higher benefit to those with 10 or more years of service.

An earlier bill had restored the minimum retirement age to 60 without the required years of service.

The pension fund was also affected by the large number of state officials who transferred to the county and were allowed under state law to bring their years of service into the pension fund while not being required to contribute to it financially.

Sen. William H. Amoss, a Harford County Democrat who is co-chairman of the Special Joint Committee on Pensions, said he saw no reason for an across-the-board disclosure bill.

"You've got a unique situation there" in Anne Arundel County, Mr. Amoss said. "I don't know why you'd want it across the board."

Mr. Amoss said his committee probably would be receptive to legislation dealing specifically with Anne Arundel County. "But I think you can solve it without throwing it open to the whole world," he said. "I think you should have some privacy involved, because it is that person's money."

Mr. Gary agreed that other state legislators may well view the issue as an Anne Arundel County problem. "If we could succeed in convincing them it could happen to them, too, then maybe we'll be able to pass something," he said.

But Richard N. Dixon, a Carroll County Democrat and House chairman of the Special Joint Committee on Pensions, sees no problem with throwing open the whole system.

"When public funds are being used, that should be public information," he said.

Other members of the county delegation supported the idea of a pensions disclosure bill.

"It's taxpayers' dollars. The public should have access to that information," said Sen. Philip C. Jimeno, D-31.

"It sounds great to me. I was going to draft the legislation myself," said W. Ray Huff, D-31. "When a person is elected to public office, their whole life is open to scrutiny."

Both Mr. Huff and Mr. Gary agreed that only the government's contribution should be disclosed, and not the amount the official contributes to the pension fund.

"I think the portion they put in themselves should be their private information," Mr. Gary said. "I don't think that's anybody's business but theirs."

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