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April 5, 2011

On Responsibility

Farrell Keough

With less than a week left in the General assembly’s 2011 session, many people believe sine die will be the end of this year’s legislation. Not so. Lest we forget, there was a census last year and now we face the repercussions of that counting.


Not to worry, what’s the worst that could happen?


This year’s session was supposed to end on April 11th, but new pension issues could disrupt this timeline. In short, calculations for pension benefits to state workers are different between the House and Senate. As noted in the hyperlinked Baltimore Sun article:


Sen. Richard Madaleno, a Montgomery County Democrat who is on the conference committee, said he is “confused” by why the multiplier has emerged as an issue since there was no discussion about it during the floor debate.


He also said he is “concerned” that it will re-open other issues that are considered settled. “Clearly this is a chance to take a lot of things that were off the table and put them on the table”" Madaleno said.


This ‘concern’ is well-founded – the central aspect of the budget process affects all other legislative business. Virtually no proposal before the legislature can be deemed to have no cost – some kind of fiscal note must be determined. Hence, few proposed bills stand a chance if the overall budget is not determined and finalized.


As noted in both the Gazette and Frederick News Post, these serious structural deficits could be handled by embracing the House Republican budget plan – especially the retirement proposals:


Another area of significant concern is the unwieldy state retirement plans. The Republicans call for a change to the benefits system similar to Montgomery County’s Guaranteed Retirement Income Program (GRIP). Employees are given the choice of a 401(k)-type of retirement plan or a cash balance with a fixed 5 percent annual interest rate. This proposal has been touted as favorable to employees – offering them both security and choice.


Yet, many diehard Democrats will not recognize the need for these changes nor the serious consequences of not dealing with the structural deficit. For instance, in a Frederick News Post article, Delegate Galen Clagett (D., Frederick 3A)) called votes against the budget “unconscionable.”


“I'm the only delegate in Frederick County who voted for that budget and I'm proud to have done that, and I think these people ought to hang their heads,” Clagett said.


“Because what they're saying is they don't care about education, they don't care about healthcare services, they don't care about the community college, they don't care about the municipalities that need the highway user funds.”


Having owned a business for many years, Delegate Clagett is well aware of the meaning of structural deficit and the inability to pay down these costs. But, to posit this in terms of not caring about these excesses is pure politics and dismissive of the hardships on those citizens who pay for these excesses without receiving benefit.


We are in a time of serious hardship throughout this nation – now is the time to reign in the overreach of government. Promoting the continuation of spending beyond our means is both irresponsible and shows a tremendous lack of leadership and concern for the citizens you are elected to represent.


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