Cecil County Commish Split on Pipkin Teacher Pensions Bill; “Patriots” Protest Pipkin Mandate

March 1, 2011

The evolving political split among the Cecil County Commissioners came into play Tuesday when two commissioners tried to get the Board go on record against proposed state legislation, sponsored by state Sen. E.J. Pipkin (R-36), to transfer some financial responsibility for teacher pensions from the state to the counties. But a three-member majority of the all-Republican board refused to speak out against the Pipkin legislation.

At the same time, members of the Cecil County Patriots—the local “tea party” organization that has often been at odds with the political machine led by Pipkin and his ally, Del. Michael D. Smigiel (R-36)—announced plans to testify and protest against the Pipkin pension bill at a hearing in Annapolis on Wednesday 3/2/11.

For the second consecutive year, Pipkin has proposed legislation that would transfer responsibility for local teachers’ pensions from the state to local counties. But this year’s version (SB629) includes some mitigating language that would only transfer pension obligations to the counties insofar as the costs are above the median for the state. Pipkin has maintained that his newest proposal would not harm Eastern Shore counties in his district but would force more urbanized counties, such as Montgomery County, to pick up the pension costs associated with the higher salaries paid to teachers there.

Such counties also have higher costs of living that require higher salaries to attract qualified teachers. Pensions are based upon the salaries paid to teachers while employed. The Pipkin bill would also apply to employees of local community colleges.

See link to Pipkin pension bill here:

[UPDATE: The nonpartisan Legislative Services analysts filed a “fiscal note” on the bill that concluded it would cost Cecil County $3 million in Fiscal 2013 and a total of over $14.1 million over four years, contrary to the assertion that Cecil would not incur costs under the Pipkin bill. See fiscal note here: http://mlis.state.md.us/2011rs/fnotes/bil_0009/sb0629.pdf

At Tuesday’s Cecil County Commissioners work session, Commissioner Tari Moore (R-2), who serves as the liaison between the commissioners and the state legislative delegation, voiced concerns about the precedent the bill would set and asked fellow commissioners to go on record in opposition to the Pipkin bill.

“These bills are Band-Aids,” she said, and do not address or resolve the long-term pension obligations of the state to educators. She voiced concerns that the legislation, while perhaps not immediately including Cecil County, amounted to the “camel’s nose under the tent” that could be expanded later to dump the state’s responsibility for teacher pensions on counties regardless of locally-approved salaries.

Commissioner Robert Hodge (R-5) agreed, saying, “If we allow the transfer of liability to any county” the state might eventually expand that liability up to 100 percent of the cost. “We just seem to be shifting the problem to someone else,” he said.

“It looks good today but it could be changed,” he said, in the future and it could be “a big liability for us.”

But three other commissioners didn’t want to speak out against the Pipkin legislation.
“Leave that one be,” said Jim Mullin (R-1), the president of the commissioner’s board. “Let’s not pick a fight.”

Commissioner Diana Broomell (R-4) said she had consulted with Pipkin and was advised that he was trying to organize a rural coalition to oppose more urban/suburban areas on various legislative initiatives in the General Assembly. “I appreciate that strategy,” she said. “I don’t think we should do anything. Let it run its course,” she said of the Pipkin pension transfer plan.

“I tend to agree; Cecil County isn’t affected,” said Commissioner Michael Dunn (R-3), a former legislative aide to Del. Smigiel.

Mullin and Dunn have been firmly aligned with the Pipkin-Smigiel political machine while Broomell has been considered a swing vote–although aligned with Mullin, who bankrolled her previous unsuccessful campaign for county commissioner.

Meanwhile, the “Cecil County Patriots” organization is planning to attend a hearing in Annapolis on Wednesday 3/2/11 to oppose the Pipkin teachers pension transfer bill. In a letter to Cecil Times, Donna Caudell, one of the top leaders of the group, said the bill was an improper dumping of responsibility onto the county when Pipkin voted a few years ago to raise statewide teacher pension benefits.

[See Ms. Caudell’s letter to Cecil Times here: http://ceciltimes.com/letters-to-the-editor/

Ms. Caudell noted that Pipkin voted in 2006 to support “extravagant” teacher pensions paid for by the state, but now is trying to shift that responsibility to the counties.

“Pipkin is way out of touch with the middle class,” Ms. Caudell wrote, “and this just shows how much.” Perhaps, she said, “we need to replace Pipkin with an every day citizen…[who] can actually make common sense decisions.”

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8 Responses to Cecil County Commish Split on Pipkin Teacher Pensions Bill; “Patriots” Protest Pipkin Mandate

  1. Al Reasin on March 1, 2011 at 8:52 pm

    According to a Washington Post article (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/12/21/AR2010122105225.html , “Having spent most of the past 10 years under-contributing to the plans that cover more than 100,000 former employees, the state faces unfunded pension liabilities of more than $18 billion over 25 years and unfunded health-care obligations projected at $15 billion.”

    The PEW Center on the States in February 2010 reports that the funding levels in Maryland were above 80 percent in 2006 but fell below 80 percent in 2008. With an earlier retirement allowed combined with a higher benefit after the 2006 changes, one could expect that to happen even with all other factors remaining constant, including state contributions being too low overall as the Washington Post reported in December 2010.

    The state government kicked the pension can down the road with the Maryland Public Employees’ and Retirees’ Benefit Sustainability Commission, and now the response is, as Commissioner Moore stated, “These bills are Band-Aids”. The state government made the mistake on funding and they should resolve it, but not by dumping the problem on county government.

  2. Alexis on March 2, 2011 at 9:24 am

    DunnMullin (the Siamese twins) are expected to do whatever Smigiel and Pipkin dictate. I am surprised at Commissioner Broomell. “Let it run it’s course”? Pipkin has had prior terms in office to form a “rural coalition”. What makes anyone think he will start now?

    He hatched this pension plan last year when he wanted to run for Comptroller as part of cutting the state budget by shifting costs to the counties. He didn’t try to help Cecil County last year by his “Tax Cap” and “Binding Arbitration” vendettas.

    WAKE UP COMMISSIONER BROOMELL. These three just might become “Two-and-a-half Smipkins.” Recording work sessions may have come at just the right time.

  3. Crazy Old History Teacher on March 2, 2011 at 10:51 am

    All I got to say to Senator Pipkin is this: BACK OFF MY PENSION!

    The counties have absolutely no right to control our pension. If the counties control it, the pensions would vary from county to county. It wouldn’t be right for a retired teacher in Baltimore County to have a better pension than a retired teacher in Cecil County. In Maryland, we teachers can retire after 30 years, some of us choose to retire then, some of us stay longer, but what would you do about a teacher that taught in Cecil County for 25 years, then taught in Kent County for the last 5 years? Does that mean they don’t get a pension?

    • ceciltimes on March 2, 2011 at 11:10 am

      Crazy History Teacher,
      Welcome to Cecil Times! We’re glad to have you commenting here.
      You raise a very important point. Many teachers work in more than one school system in Maryland. The proposed bill is silent on that point and the legislative analysis doesn’t address it.
      Also, contrary to comments at the Commissioners meeting, the fiscal policy note on the bill text calculates that the cost of the bill to Cecil County would be over $3 million a year.

  4. Tidewater on March 8, 2011 at 10:11 am

    Hey Crazy Teacher, do you let your neighbors run up your credit cards so you can pay the bills? Well, that’s what is going on in this situation with teacher pensions in the State of Maryland.

    The counties negotiate high salaries with politically active teachers which should be illegal. The state then pays teacher pensions not the counties. What an expensive, dangerous and unsustainable shell game at the expense of the children they teach, our future tax payers. How is it fair to be cruel to those you teach by putting the exploding, unsustainable costs of teacher pensions on their shoulders?

    For example, a teacher can begin teaching at age 22, retire with 30 years of service at age 52 then collect a pension from the state until he/she dies at 82. The counties are off the hook for 30 YEARS of pension costs that they should be responsible for paying. This situation fosters out of control spending, creates structural deficits and is not fair to the taxpayers or teachers.

    If Maryland public schools weren’t so horrible, teachers wouldn’t have to move from system to system desperately trying to find a tolerable place to do their work. Teachers are responsible enough to manage their own retirement plan by funding it from their own salaries like the rest of us do if we let them. Teachers can do much better by taking responsibility for their own retirements. Pensions are so old school and need to be eliminated altogether.

    If teachers think they can do better in Baltimore or Kent Counties thats their choice. Nobody is stopping them. Its a free country and a free state. For now, at least until we go bankrupt from all these unfunded, unsustainable pensions promised to teachers. Unfortunately, this is a promise the state just can’t afford.

  5. Jackie on March 14, 2011 at 12:25 am

    Who created the pension system, and who created the contract with the Maryland State Education Association? The state did that. Local government and local boards of education did not determine the type or amount of benefits, nor do they gain any control of those things in this bill. Also, teacher pay across the state, for the most part, has a difference of a few thousand dollars. Most teachers are paid around the same amount initially, but as they teach for longer periods of time, there is a larger discrepancy based on locale, but even then, with the exception of one county, the difference is not that great and is pretty much proportionate to the differences in cost of living in those areas.

    Also, pay is usually different based on working conditions. Teachers who work in urban areas have issues to deal with that are virtually non-existent in suburban or rural areas, such as gangs, etc. When working conditions are deficient, salaries are usually higher to compensate for the additional risk and difficulties those teachers face. Also, since this bill is based on a median salary, which is approx. 52k for teachers in Maryland, isn’t it basically punishing districts who have high teacher retention rates? If most of the teachers in a district have been there for more than 10 years, the average pay for that district will certainly be above the median range.

    Teachers are currently vested in their pensions after 5 years. If pensions were to be controlled locally and vary from county to county, it would not mean that a teacher would lose his/her pension simply by moving if he/she were already vested in that system. It may mean enrollment in a new pension which he/she would have to become vested in, or a 401 k.

    It is no different than what our sheriff’s office has. The state doesn’t control their pensions, and their benefits vary from county to county. People earn different things according to where they live, or the conditions under which they work. People in regular jobs, get different pensions or 401ks depending on what their place of employment sees fit to give them. It is fair. That’s life, and it is the real world that most people live in.

    The “It’s not fair, and I deserve more” line is getting old. I am a teacher who believes the state needs to deal with the mess it created, and who also believes that the MSEA and its members should be more concerned with the health and well-being of the children whom they are responsible for educating. Many of the parents of these kids are taxpayers who are struggling to keep a roof over their children’s heads and to feed and clothe them. To demand more, more, more, while those who are funding the pensions are losing jobs and experiencing pay cuts is unconscionable.

  6. Tidewater on March 14, 2011 at 9:11 am

    Which came first the chicken or the egg or the shell game teachers like Jackie play with taxpayer dollars and children’s lives?

    Teachers need to step up, stop spewing Maryland State Teacher union talking points and realize the local governments negotiate excessive contract benifits to attract new teachers, then send the bill to the state. Locals governments bid new teacher benefits higher and higher, thus creating a structural deficit the state simply can not afford.

    Just because the state provided the locals a credit card doesn’t mean they have to keep providing a line of credit. Local governments certainly can permit teachers to assume total responsibility for their own retirement i.e. 401ks or whatever. Teachers will have a much better retirement than the state now provides if they take personal responsibility for their own retirements in negotiating their contract with the county.

    Now is a good time to shift this responsibility to where it belongs, to the individual teacher. As you said, the state has messed teacher pensions up and always will. How can teachers trust the state to fix what they consistently screw up?

    The state must at least shift teacher pension costs to the local governments where the debt is created to stop teacher pension Gravy Train wreck that is now upon us.

  7. Jackie on March 16, 2011 at 12:31 am

    Tidewater, AKA “Teacher Gravy Train Wreck” on Cecil County Topix:
    Since I am a teacher, let me school you a bit. You either didn’t read or didn’t comprehend my post. Let me simplify this for you. I support reforming the pension system by changing the pension plan to 401k. Pipkin’s SB 629 will shift payment for pensions to the local government (the taxpayers) not to the teachers. The local government has NO authority to change the pension system to a 401k under the law. The BOE cannot vote to change the teacher pension system for our county to a 401k. They also don’t have the power to make teachers contribute more; the state is the ONLY one with the power to do that.

    Thus, ANY shift of responsibility of payment of the cost of pensions should also include a shift of power over those pensions so counties can control their costs. I think the price the employer (taxpayers) currently contributes to the pensions is obscene. By the way, I was in Annapolis last night protesting the pro-union “Keep the Promise” rally.

    I also want you to understand why SB 629 is a bad bill. I’ve actually researched pay scales in different parts of the state as well as cost of living indexes to see if the arguments used to support this bill are valid. They are not, and this is why: The median pay scale does not work as a measurement because it will change every year. There will be no certainty as to whether a county will have to contribute to the pensions or not from year to year. It will ultimately come down to the teacher turnover rate. Cecil County has one of the lower pay scales in the state. Yet it only takes a teacher with a bachelor’s degree 9 years to make above the median pay rate (52k) for the state. So that means that if Cecil County is able to hold on to its teachers, so that most of the teachers have been there more than 9 years, Cecil County will in effect be punished for that by the bill. If a county has a high teacher turnover rate, with most of its teachers being inexperienced, that county won’t be punished, even if the pay scale in that particular county is higher.

    Allegany County is a perfect example. I called there today and inquired about teacher pay. From what I was told, they actually have one of the lowest pay scales in the state, yet they still have a higher median salary (I guess their teachers like it there). This bill will make taxpayers in Allegany County responsible for part of the pensions for that district, even though their Board of Education has not agreed to exorbitant amounts of pay for their teachers. I know Pipkin has tried to work in language to exempt his district from having to pay this. There is no certainty in that though, and even the new fiscal note only states that an “alternative interpretation of the bill” states that only those who fall above the median salary would have to pay. I am uncomfortable with a bill that has two interpretations; I’m not sure which will actually be implemented.

    But even if we do get an exemption initially, is that really what we want to go for– a corn-husker kickback? Or do we want to reform the system? As a conservative, I support real reform, not special benefits for one group over another for political points. Now why don’t you go back and actually try to understand my last post. This whole debate is about SB 629, so unless you are going to actually discuss what that bill is about, whatever you say is irrelevant. LOCAL BOARDS OF ED. CANNOT MAKE TEACHERS PAY MORE, AND SB 629 will not change that. All teachers in Maryland pay the same percentage of their payroll because that was determined by the state legislature in an agreement with the Maryland State Education Association, not the local union chapters. The pay scale is the only thing that is determined locally. That is why ALL of the reform proposals for pensions are happening at the state level. If it could happen locally, we could do it right now, but unless the state passes a law to give us that power, which they haven’t and probably never will, we can not change the agreement.

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