April 10, 2009

City pension woes should be no shock

I find Mayor Sheila Dixon's assertion that the board of trustees of Baltimore's Fire and Police Employees' Retirement System has been unwilling to "look at the bigger picture" humorous but not at all surprising ("Fry tapped to review police, fire pensions," April 5).

It has indeed been the board's unwavering (and perhaps misplaced) concern for the "bigger picture" that has, in part, led to the difficulties the pension plan now faces.

The board has, for five or more years, opted not to reduce the assumed rate of investment returns as recommended by our actuary in direct response to the fiscal impact that move would have had on the "bigger picture."

Assuming a higher rate of return means a lower contribution level is required of the plan's sponsor (i.e., the city). A reduction of the assumed rate of return would increase the required contribution level sharply.

The fund actuary's annual recommendation (starting in 2003) that the board reduce its rate of return was not heeded out of concern for the fiscal impact such a change would have had on the "bigger picture" - that is, on the city's General Fund.

For the administration to feign surprise at this problem now takes pretense to a new level.

And I would submit that the board's "inaction" in failing to reduce the assumed rate of investment return would have been easily manageable in a historically normal economic atmosphere. It is the meltdown of the global markets that has brought the pension plan to the level of under-funding it now faces.

But in fairness to all concerned, that financial meltdown is something that neither the board nor the city administration could fairly have been expected to anticipate, and pointing fingers now is merely childish and unproductive.

Stephen G. Fugate, Baltimore

The writer is chairman of the board of the Baltimore Fire and Police Employees' Retirement System and president of International Association of Firefighters Local No. 964.

Inheritance bill is a blow for equality

Bravo to the senators in Annapolis who voted to exempt same-gender partners from inheritance taxes ("Domestic partner tax exemption gains," April 8). I can only hope that members of the House will show such enlightenment.

Basically, this is a civil rights bill that ensures equality for all.

I have been with my partner for 42-plus years, and if that kind of commitment isn't marriage then I don't know what is.

J.B. Hanson, Baltimore

Moral posturing a threat to liberty

Shame on Sen. Andy Harris for attempting to meddle in events at the University of Maryland ("Campus triple-X show goes on," April 7).

Why does Mr. Harris feel that he has the right to blackmail the university into accepting his own moral standard of right and wrong? The answer should be quite obvious: He's engaged in pure political posturing.

But this kind of posturing sets a dangerous precedent of blatant disregard for the First Amendment to the Constitution, which guarantees all citizens freedom of expression.

Let's hope the voters see this the next time Mr. Harris is up for re-election.

Brandon Levey, College Park

The writer is a student at the University of Maryland, College Park.

Plan to raze Pimlico is just pure greed

All Carl Verstandig is interested in is making money by tearing down Pimlico and putting up a shopping center; he has no regard for the stores on Park Heights Avenue or the history of Pimlico Race Course or the Preakness ("Suitor would raze Pimlico," April 3).

If he wants to own a shopping center, let him buy Owings Mills Mall.

Frank Braunstein, Pikesville

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