Some Maryland lawmakers drew a lot of heat recently for sticking up for principle. Members of the Senate decided that it's a bad - and apparently unprecedented - policy to grant a pay raise retroactively. Despite opposition from Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., they cut pay for correctional officers by $15.5 million. They gave the prison guards a little extra, as the governor had requested, but they declined to backdate the check to Jan. 1.
Correctional officers certainly deserve the money, but the legislators had a point: Employment is a contract. State employees agree to certain levels of pay and benefits in return for their services. It's all very well to give raises - or even cut benefits when that's required - but not retroactively. You can set new rules today, but your employer shouldn't be reaching into the past and monkeying with the terms of your previous compensation, budget surplus or not.
But legislators who couldn't sully the budget with bonuses for guards are now poised to give pension benefits retroactively to teachers and state employees. Senate and House proposals vary, but some would reach back as far as 1998 to give teachers credit for pension contributions that were never made - either by the state or by the teachers themselves. Such an effort is expected to cost taxpayers $100 million to $150 million this year.