Bill is carefully crafted to benefit one person

General Assembly

February 18, 2004|By Ryan Davis | Ryan Davis,SUN STAFF

The bill sounds simple. It would allow former state workers a second chance to apply for military service credits and boost their pensions.

But the bill introduced by two Anne Arundel County legislators is carefully crafted so that only one person will benefit: Robert L. Walker, the former state secretary of agriculture and the current No. 2 official in Arundel government.

If the legislation passes, Walker stands to collect an additional $17,500 over his retirement, officials estimate.

"I earned it," said Walker, who also is a former president of the Baltimore City school board. "I would have gotten it if I had applied. ... I just wasn't here physically at the time" to apply.

The bill's sponsors - state Sen. Philip C. Jimeno and Del. Joan Cadden - say they took on the cause because Walker, a veteran who lives in Pasadena, is a constituent who lost out on retirement money. "He has no place [to turn] besides his senator and delegates," Jimeno said.

The legislation is what those around Annapolis call a "red-headed Eskimo" - a bill designed to aid just one person, business or interest.

Walker, who was agriculture secretary under Gov. William Donald Schaefer, neglected to turn in the paperwork necessary to get paid in his state pension for his military service. He was working out of the country at the time the paperwork had to be submitted. This bill would give him a second chance.

But no one else in Walker's predicament would qualify.

To be eligible, a person must have been employed by the Department of Agriculture on or after July 1, 1985; left state employment on or after June 30, 1997; have earned 12 years of service in the state teachers' pension system; and have lived outside the country for at least three years after leaving state government.

The Walker bill has become known as a "red-headed Eskimo with blue-eyed, blond-haired kids," said J. Howard Pleines, director of legislation and research for the state pension system.

Jimeno said he intended to include in the bill anyone in a position similar to Walker's. Cadden said state retirement and pension system officials requested that the bill be narrowed to cover only Walker.

Pleines said his agency probably wanted to control costs. "You might be talking hundreds of people," he said.

As a Navy reservist, Walker served on the USS Sumner from 1971 until 1973 in the Atlantic. He joined state government in 1985, and after 10 years was eligible for credit for his active-duty military service.

After serving as agriculture secretary until 1994, he was hired by the University of Maryland for a diplomatic assignment in the Ukraine. He left that job in 1997 but remained overseas, in Moscow, working for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Walker said he didn't know it then, but once he left state government, he had three years to submit his paperwork to get credit for his military service.

He said he thought the compensation was automatic because he had told the state he was a veteran. But when he returned home in 2001 and later checked on his pension, he found he hadn't gotten the credit. He applied and was denied because the deadline had lapsed, so he turned to his legislators.

Said Cadden: "It's a unique situation."

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