Assembly approves pension increases

Capital Notebook

April 08, 2006

Maryland lawmakers agreed yesterday to devote $120 million a year to improve pensions for teachers and state employees.

The agreement calls for the workers to contribute more money toward their retirement, from 2 percent to 5 percent over three years. Employees will get retroactive benefits dating to 1998.

Both the House and Senate had approved pension improvements, but in widely different forms. The House wanted to raise retirement pay to about 60 percent of pay before retirement for new employees, but current employees wouldn't see a boost. The Senate wanted to give retroactive improvements.

The final agreement reached Friday matches the Senate plans more closely than the House's. It raises the multiplier, or the percentage of the average salary that is paid for each year of service, from 1.4 percent to 1.8 percent.

One of the pension negotiators, Democratic Sen. Patrick J. Hogan of Montgomery County, said the final package is not as generous as some teachers and employees hoped. But, he said, it is more affordable.

"Can we sustain it over the long term? I think yes," Hogan asked.

Lawmakers will send the agreement to Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. for final approval Monday, the last day of the legislative session. After several years of looking for ways to boost pensions, sponsors said it was vital that something was done this final year of their term.

"It was important for us to fulfill our promise to be able to do that," said Del. Adrienne A. Jones, a Baltimore County Democrat.

Sue Esty, a lobbyist for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, said the improvements will help attract and retain good workers.

"This is really going to provide immediate relief when it comes time to retire," she said.

Under the agreement, the improvements will begin next year. Maryland's pensions for teachers and employees had ranked among the nation's worst, union leaders said.

Associated Press

Lawsuit complains about ballots

Forget paper records versus touch screens - one Maryland resident wants to rearrange the entire ballot.

Arguing that a ballot listing candidates in alphabetical order discriminates against those whose last names start with letters in the middle of the alphabet, a Baltimore man filed a lawsuit in federal court yesterday demanding candidates be arranged randomly on Maryland's ballot. Michael Schaefer, who filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court, said candidates at the top and bottom of a long list of names have a considerable advantage at the polls.

"Everybody is entitled to fair treatment," Schaefer said. "We've had elections won or lost on a half of 1 percent." Other states, including California, list candidates randomly on ballots. Officials with the Maryland State Board of Elections were not available for comment.

John Fritze

Bill targets group home locations

A bill that would require state officials to consider a group home's location when deciding whether it will receive a state contract has been approved by both houses of the General Assembly and sent to Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. for his signature.

The bill, introduced by Del. Dan K. Morhaim, a Baltimore County Democrat, is designed to steer group homes toward areas that provide most of the homes' residents, said Del. Bobby A. Zirkin, a co-sponsor of the bill.

"The hope is that through the procurement process, when private providers are getting contracted to do services for something like a group home, that it would be almost like a certificate of need that location or geography would be part of the process," said Zirkin, a Baltimore County Democrat. "I'm not 100 percent sure how it's going to work, but it's kind of a first step."

Zirkin said he expected Ehrlich to sign the bill into law.

Josh Mitchell

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