A Dead Horse Called Pension Reform

February 15, 1994

Think about this for a moment: The Anne Arundel Taxpayers Association filed suit to roll back county pensions for a few dozen officials who benefited under a too-generous 1989 law that has since been changed. Last week, a county Circuit Court judge handed down a ruling that made mincemeat of every one of AATA's feeble arguments. AATA lawyer John Greiber pledges to appeal, saying, "Unfortunately, it's going to cost the taxpayers more money in settling this."

So a case allegedly inspired by concern for the taxpayer will be dragged through the higher courts -- even though it has virtually no chance of winning -- until it ends up costing nearly as much as the pension benefits themselves.

Who does AATA think it is kidding? It's not doing this for taxpayers, any more than the Anne Arundel County Council introduced its latest piece of pension reform overkill for the people. The leaders of this crusade are motivated by a personal grudge against the county; the council, by a desire to win Brownie points with tax rebels. The people themselves seem to have lost interest. You could count on two hands the number of citizens who showed up at recent hearings on pension reform bills. That is because the issue basically has been resolved since 1991, when the council stiffened retirement requirements for elected and appointed officials. Further reforms have since been approved.

But reform isn't enough for AATA and the council; they want to punish those who benefited under the 1989 law by rolling back their benefits and making them pay back the extra money with interest. This would be unfair and a violation of constitutional contract protections, as the courts have noted. Even Attorney General J. Joseph Curran, who believes (incorrectly, we think) the county can roll back benefits, says making people pay back what they have already received is going too far.

The 1989 pension law was not a scandal. It was heard and voted on in the open like any other bill. The court basically laughed at AATA's argument that the county violated a requirement to publish the bill for two consecutive weeks by not waiting a full 14 days between advertisements.

The 1989 law was a mistake. It has been corrected. This horse is dead. Let it lie.

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