Miller urges passage of pension bill

March 17, 1995|By Frank Langfitt | Frank Langfitt,Sun Staff Writer

State Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. urged fellow senators yesterday to support a bill that would prohibit three top gubernatorial aides from collecting tens of thousands of dollars in early pension payments from Prince George's County.

Mr. Miller, a Prince George's Democrat, told a Senate subcommittee that the bill would prevent the county's pension program and others like it from benefiting elected and appointed officials who lose their jobs for political reasons.

"Appointees accept jobs knowing that they serve at the will of the appointing authority and, indirectly, at the will of the people," Mr. Miller said.

"County residents were shocked and disappointed to learn that, in these tight financial times, elected and appointed officials received enhanced pension benefits after leaving county service."

Specifically, Senate Bill 857 would prevent three aides to the governor -- Chief of Staff Major F. Riddick Jr., 44, Personnel Secretary Michael J. Knapp, 41, and Deputy Chief of Staff Michele T. Rozner, 36 -- from receiving county pension benefits before the age of 55.

The bill is expected to pass the Senate. The measure has 36 co-sponsors, and only 24 votes are needed for approval in the 47-member body.

In the House of Delegates, Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. has not taken a position on the bill, but had nice things to say about it yesterday.

"I think the president's bill is a very responsible approach to pension issues," Mr. Taylor said. "And I'm sure that the House will give it very special consideration."

Gov. Parris N. Glendening was in meetings yesterday afternoon and unavailable for comment on the bill, said spokesman Charles F. Porcari.

If the legislature enacts the bill, it could put the governor in the awkward position of having to sign or veto a measure that would cost several of his longtime aides thousands of dollars.

The bill's passage also could lead to something of a showdown between Mr. Miller and Mr. Glendening. Both come from Prince George's and often have been at odds politically.

The Prince George's pension program set off a furor in January when it was reported that the governor and several top aides would receive early pension benefits because they had been "involuntarily separated" from jobs in the county.

The aides became eligible when Mr. Glendening asked for their resignations while he was county executive.

The governor said he did so to make it easier for his successor to hire his own people. He later rehired three of the aides at substantial salaries with the state.

Mr. Glendening was deemed eligible for the early benefits because term limits prohibited him from running for re-election as county executive, though he had said for years he had no intention of running again.

Amid criticism, Mr. Glendening, 52, said he would give up all pension benefits until he reached the normal retirement age of 55.

His aides said they would give up the benefits until they left state service.

Mr. Miller's bill would prevent all Maryland counties from paying early pension benefits to public officials who are subject to term limits. It would also prohibit such payments to political appointees who are asked to resign at the end of an elected official's term.

In addition, the bill would require that only elected officials make policy changes to a pension plan. In Prince George's, the pension program's trustees created the "involuntary separation" benefit without County Council approval.

The trustees, which included Mr. Knapp, were appointed by Mr. Glendening.

Lump sum payouts to employees for unused sick leave would also be prohibited under the bill. Under the Prince George's pension system, Mr. Riddick was eligible for nearly $120,000 in unused sick leave.

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