House of Delegates fails to tackle legislators' benefits

February 17, 2010

Wednesday, February 10, and again on Friday, February 12, on the floor of the Maryland House of Delegates a very interesting series of events occurred. Due to the blizzard many delegates were unable to attend much less any media. The expectation was that very little business would take place.

Every four years there is an independent commission that studies the compensation of the legislature. While the commission had recommended some increase, all parties agreed that these are certainly not the times to consider any type of raises, given that so many of our neighbors are suffering financially. Due to the nature of this joint resolution and the rejection of raises, it was moved through the processes rather quickly.

For the last month I have had the privilege to lead a group of Republican delegates in developing ideas for decreasing some of the strain on the state. One of the largest problems with significant consequences for our state concerns the benefit programs for state employees. We agreed to draft an amendment to this resolution to reduce the generous pension for legislators. According to Marta Mossburg of the Maryland Public Policy Institute, the current plan offers "full time benefits for part time work." Del. Bill Frank offered two solutions. The first would have moved all future pension benefits for current or newly elected officials into a plan similar to a 401k. The second would have moved the legislators into the same plan as state employees. Either would be a reduction to the current generous benefits and would save the state millions of dollars over time. Obviously, more needs to be done, but this is a start. Some have called this is an election year ploy. Unfortunately, under the state constitution, the pay and benefits for the legislature are only reviewed every four years.

Due to some procedural issues, Delegate Frank was not even allowed to offer his amendment. The vote went down party lines. Several of those who voted initially against allowing him to offer his amendment, when questioned later, had no idea as to the nature of his amendment. Admittedly, there are procedures to make sure that these matters are properly vetted. At the end of the day the legislature had an opportunity to lead by example and allowed procedural issues to set this aside for four more years.

With the pension plans and employee health programs showing an unfunded status of approximately $30 billion, now is not the time for anything less than serious discussions of these issues. We must focus on substance over form.

Andrew Serafini, Annapolis.

The writer is a Republican representing District 2a in Hagerstown.

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