Overhaul of pensions proposed

Glendening's plan gives state troopers more retirement pay

`Need to be very cautious'

Measure attempts to halt turnover, adds a deferral option

February 11, 1999|By Matthew Mosk | Matthew Mosk,SUN STAFF

Gov. Parris N. Glendening has proposed a $10 million overhaul of the state police pension plan that would offer troopers a substantial boost in retirement pay and let them start accumulating pension money five years before they leave work.

The plan, offered in identical bills in the Maryland Senate and House of Delegates, will get its first airing before a Senate subcommittee today. The state police union -- which endorsed Glendening in November's election -- says the deal is the second half of an effort to stem the flow of top-flight troopers to police departments that offer better pay and benefits.

Last year, state police received a package to increase salaries by roughly 10 percent over two years.

A major draw for troopers is a component of Glendening's plan called deferred retirement, which would allow them to collect pension money during their last five years on the job -- while still earning paychecks. Officers would collect pension payments in a lump sum, which analysts estimate would average roughly $150,000, on the day they leave work.

Some legislators are skeptical about the plan, which would amount to a double dip for employees who elected the deferred retirement option.

"I thought your pension was supposed to be for when you retire, not before," said Sen. Patrick J. Hogan, a Montgomery County Republican. "I think we need to be very cautious before traveling down this road."

Early estimates paint the deal as costly -- $10 million in the first year, with expenses increasing by 5 percent each year. Analysts say it's too early to predict with certainty the impact of the program.

But even without the deferred retirement option, the arrangement would translate into a much bigger retirement check for the typical trooper.

For instance, a lieutenant who retired today after 28 years on the force would receive annual pension payments of $40,589. If the governor's plan passes, the payment would be $53,608.

Glendening's budget secretary, Frederick W. Puddester, defended the proposed increase, saying it provided a competitive edge.

"It's obviously going to be more expensive," Puddester said. "But there has been a good amount of turnover. And the pension board has concluded we're no longer competitive."

This argument -- the need to bring Maryland into line with other police departments -- drove the union's push to overhaul the pension during collective bargaining sessions with the governor's office late last year.

Charles Rhodes, president of the State Law Enforcement Officers Labor Alliance, said Glendening's proposal addresses the union's major concerns.

"It's comparable to some, and not as good as others," Rhodes said. "But this should allow us to attract and retain quality people."

The number of troopers jumping ship for other agencies is an open question. Figures provided by the state police show Maryland loses five to 10 troopers to other departments each year -- a number characterized by a spokeswoman as "relatively small" for a force of 1,600.

But a comparison of pension plans shows that Maryland state police lag behind counterparts in neighboring states.

Maryland troopers retiring after 25 years collect 55 percent of their final salary in pension payments, while state police in Delaware get 62.5 percent. In New Jersey, they collect 65 percent of their final salary; in Pennsylvania, 75 percent. Glendening's proposal would increase the Maryland figure to 68.7 percent.

Departments, including those in Prince George's and Baltimore counties and Baltimore, allow officers to retire after 20 years, while state troopers must work 25 years before becoming eligible for a pension. Glendening's bill addresses that disparity, making good on a 1994 campaign promise.

With all the concessions, lawmakers said the final package might be more generous than the state can afford, even at a time of relative fiscal plenty.

"We have to be careful not to set any precedents here that we can't live up to," said Sen. Edward J. Kasemeyer, a Howard County Democrat who chairs the pensions subcommittee.

Last year, the General Assembly enacted major improvements in a pension plan that covers other state workers and public school teachers. The changes boosted benefits but required workers to begin contributing 2 percent of salaries to retirement.

One sweetener not offered other state employees was the deferred retirement plan.

The prototype for the plan originated in Baton Rouge, La., and has been used in Florida, Texas and California. Baltimore began a plan in 1996, allowing officers to collect three years worth of pension money before retirement.

In Annapolis

Highlights in Annapolis today:

House of Delegates meets. 10 a.m. House chamber.

Senate meets. 10 a.m. Senate chamber.

House Commerce and Government Matters Committee hearing on HB 263 to change residency requirement for Baltimore mayoral candidates. 1 p.m. Room 140, House office building.

Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee hearing on SB 160 to prohibit assisted suicide. 1 p.m. Room 300, Senate office building.

Pub Date: 2/11/99

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