MARYLAND

O'Malley wants counties to absorb half of state's pension tab

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Montgomery County leaders and community members have one message for lawmakers in Annapolis: "Stop the Shift."

Governor Martin O'Malley is proposing to transfer half the cost of teacher and other pensions from the state to 23 counties and Baltimore City. It's a move that some say could be a devastating hit to communities already struggling with budget cuts.

Mark Myrick, a supervisor for the Department of Corrections says the cost of living in Montgomery County is adding up.

"We're really struggling with the rising gas prices," Myrick said. "Without a raise, furloughs, everything has been put on our plate as far as rising insurance costs."

He says his situation could take another turn for the worse.

"I might not have a job," he said.

It is a reality many county workers are fearing under Gov. O'Malley's proposal to shift pension costs to the county.

"We cannot afford $300 in additional costs coming to our county for something that quite frankly we have no responsibility with respect to," said Roger Berliner.

The governor is calling for 23 counties and Baltimore City to absorb half of the state's $900 million pension tab to help close a $1.1 billion shortfall.

With local jurisdictions already stretched thin, Montgomery County Council members say covering the costs is unrealistic.

"We have raised every tax we can think of," said Montgomery County Councilmember Nancy Floreen.

During Tuesday's packed council meeting, dozens of concerned citizens and leaders representing county workers stood united in opposing the looming measure.

"If you start the pension shift to the county, something that for 85 years has not been the pattern in the State of Maryland, then you're going to run into real trouble," said Stephen Faber, Montgomery County Council Staff Director.

According to Faber, the financial burden would be wide-reaching.

In the first year alone, it would be $47 million, he said.

"The numbers would show an elimination of 600 classroom teacher positions," said Shirley Brandman, with the Montgomery County Board of Education.

"This is not the time for these costs to cause the libraries to lose once again to restore collections and databases," said Larry Friend with Friends of the Library.

The governor has offered to help offset the costs for the first year and according to his spokesperson Montgomery County stands to gain $18 million in fiscal year 2013.

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