The Prince George's County supplemental pension plan that is now under scrutiny is relatively unusual in Maryland, though some other jurisdictions have adopted provisions that benefit employees who are laid off, not reappointed or not re-elected.
In fact, Gov. Parris N. Glendening yesterday defended the Prince George's County program by pointing out similarities to provisions in other pension plans at a news conference called to defuse criticism of the scheme. "This provision . . . was patterned after a similar 'discontinued-service benefit' in Montgomery County," Mr. Glendening said.
But while the Prince George's County plan is similar, it appears to be more lucrative than the Montgomery County benefit, first adopted in 1965.
Under the Montgomery plan, employees who are laid off, not re- appointed or not re-elected are eligible for the pension benefit after 10 years of service -- five years less than the Prince George's County plan. But Montgomery County differs in that employees cannot start collecting the benefits until they meet various age and years-of-service requirements for normal or early retirement.
More importantly, Montgomery County differs in that it does not increase pension benefits by 50 percent for employees who are involuntarily terminated, as the Prince George's plan does.
In 1974, the Montgomery County Council did approve a sweetener for such employees, increasing their benefits by 5 percent. That provision was removed four years later, but those employees eligible at the time were grandfathered into the plan.
Mr. Glendening also cited a state pension provision that offers early pension benefits to some officials before they reach normal retirement age. "Many of the elected and appointed officials of the state -- some of whom were quick to be critical over the weekend -- are still entitled to immediate pension benefits after 16 years of state service," he said.
The Maryland State Retirement and Pension Systems -- 12 separate plans that cover all state employees and public employees in 104 other jurisdictions -- did provide for a "special early retirement" for elected and appointed officials.
That provision was eliminated by the Maryland General Assembly for employees hired or appointed after June 30, 1982. Mr. Glendening was referring to the fact that many officials still in office qualify under the provision with no reduction of benefits for early retirement.
"I think the legislature spoke for itself when it decided to shut it off," said Peter Vaughn, executive director of the State Retirement Agency.
Baltimore City and the surrounding five metropolitan counties differ in the types of benefits paid to employees, but none is as generous as Prince George's County. Baltimore, for instance, does allow firefighters and police officers who are laid off to collect their pension benefits, regardless of age, but only if they have 15 years of service. Other city employees are eligible for special benefits for "involuntary termination of employment," but only after working for 20 years.
In Anne Arundel County, pension perquisites for employees became an issue in last year's county executive race. At issue was the county's "Appointed and Elected Officials" plan, which was created in 1973 and modified by the County Council in 1989. The modification increased benefits to appointed officials and lowered the retirement age for all officials to age 50 from age 60. In either case, officials who were terminated involuntarily were able to collect benefits immediately if they had 16 years of service, regardless of age.