Bohahan Gives Legislative Recap At Town Hall Meeting
Lexington Park, MD - 5/23/2012
By Dick Myers
Delegate John Bohanan (D: 29B) held a town hall meeting Tuesday evening at Lexington Park Library to talk about the just completed special session and the earlier regular session. About a dozen people attended, including County Commissioners Cynthia Jones (R: 1st) and Daniel Morris (R: 2nd) as well as circuit court candidate Joseph Stanalonis and school board candidate Jim Davis.
Bohanan said the perception about out-of-control state spending is inaccurate. He said the general fund budget was at $14.2 billion in FY ’07 when Gov. O’Malley took office and is at $14.6 billion now. “It really hasn’t grown much,” he said.
Maryland, while faring better than most, was still hit hard by the recession. Federal funding is now flat after being pumped up for several years by the stimulus. And state employee morale is low, he said, because of no pay raises over several years, increased health care and pension costs, and furloughs.
The only answer, he said, was increased revenue. To address that the special session imposed an income tax rate increase for individuals making more than $100,000 and families making more than $150,000. He said that 14 percent of St. Mary’s County taxpayers will be affected by the rate change.
The increased revenue will help reduce the structural deficit from $2 billion to $500 million and it will be wiped out next year. Maryland is required to operate with a balanced budget.
Bohanan spent some time talking about the partial shifting of the teacher pension costs to the counties. He said those costs were an example of runaway spending which needed to be reined. While other parts of the budget were flat, the pension costs were rising by 21 percent.
Commissioner Morris asked Bohanan if the state has raided any of the teacher pension fund for use in the general fund. Bohanan said the fund has enough money in it but he said some of the increased teacher contributions (from five to seven percent) were used for the general fund, but he said that was to cover costs of the program.
Bohanan told Morris that part of the problem was that the teacher pension fund, like everyone’s 401K, had tanked during the recession.
Bohanan said the state does get into a public relations problem by raiding funds, such as the transportation trust fund, but he said those funds have always been replenished eventually.
Carl Pence, an attendee and former president of the Maryland State Teachers Association, now the Maryland Education Association, said current teacher retirees are not affected by any changes in the pension system,
Stanalonis wanted to know if the state is doing anything to help parents of children in private schools. Bohanan said that issue had been debated in the legislature, but he said any shifting of current policy would have “a dramatic impact on the public school system.” He said one of Maryland biggest competitive strengths is the quality of its public school system.
Bohanan noted the state does fund textbooks and computers for private schools. And it was also noted that St. Mary’s was only one of several in the state paying for private school transportation.
A second special legislative session is looming on the horizon, possibly as early as July 9; the subject will be gambling. Bohanan said the session would likely consider expanding the number of allowable casinos from five to six and to allow table games as well as slot machines.
Bohanan said he doubted that a casino in Colonial Beach, Virginia, in Charles County territory over the Potomac River, will be considered in the special session. He also said the mood was for legislators to get in and out of Annapolis quickly so he doubted that any other issues, such as the recent court case on pit bulls, will be considered in that special session.