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