Up the Street
Sometimes a review of legislative sessions require a “spin zone” to make point and counter point of how issues were resolved and how the outcomes could have been better or worse than they were. And while there may be some who look at the 2011 session and celebrate the fact that pension costs were not shifted to counties or school boards or that defined benefit pensions were maintained (instead of a change to defined contribution plans), the reality is MSEA and our 71,000 members took it on the chin this year.
Make no mistake about it; we had a tough session. And there are no words that can “spin” how a majority of legislators who earned our support just four months earlier in the 2010 elections could cast an anti-labor and anti-educator vote in passing the 2011 pension reforms. But, MSEA is not a single-issue organization, and we will continue to advocate in the best interests of our members and public education. We have three more years with this General Assembly and hope for better outcomes moving forward.
2011 LEGISLATIVE RECAP
Pensions: Everybody pays more; and all of the new people get a lot less. (Comparison chart here.)
Two significant changes for current employees in the Teacher Pension System:
- Pay 7% of salary instead of 5% of salary towards pensions.
- COLA on all future years of service will be linked to inflation and stock market returns. If there is typical inflation and the state hits target market returns (currently at 7.75%), the COLA for that year of service will be 2.5%. If there is typical inflation, but the state fails to meet market goals, the COLA will be 1%. If there is no inflation, the COLA will be 0%.
The changes for future hires are substantial and devastating to recruitment efforts.
- Pay 7% to receive a 1.5 multiplier (MD’s pensions will once again be last in the nation).
- Conditional COLA as noted above applies on all years of service.
- Average final salary calculation will use highest five consecutive years (instead of three).
- It will take 10 years to vest for pension benefits (instead of five).
- Normal retirement age was adjusted to the lesser of the age of 65 or the Rule of 90 (combination of age + years of service must equal 90).
No session is without some significant achievements, and we must celebrate them all.
- 15,000 people at the Keep the Promise Rally created an impressive and awesome sight. The strength of standing together and speaking with one voice did not get us over the highest hurdle on pensions, but it did help us build our organizational power and win some other victories.
- Governor O’Malley cut $94 million from education and the General Assembly restored almost $77 million of it, helping to bridge an important gap in resources that counties and school systems were counting on to maintain smart teacher-student ratios and ongoing investments in our future.
- Maryland’s DREAM Act was approved late in the night on the final night of session. This legislation will provide children of undocumented individuals the ability to pay in-state tuition rates at state colleges or universities if they meet the following requirements: live in Maryland at least three years, graduate from a Maryland high school, able to prove that their parents or legal guardians have paid taxes, file an affidavit that they will begin the process toward legal residency, and register for selective service.
- Late in the session, the General Assembly authorized an additional $47.5 million in FY12 for school construction projects across the state. This supplemental appropriation was made possible with the House version of the alcohol tax (HB 1213 and SB 994) that eliminated the phased-in approach of the Senate and increased the sales tax on alcohol from 6% to 9% effective July 1. The distribution of this construction money is as follows:
- Montgomery, Prince George's, and Baltimore city would receive $9 million each.
- Baltimore County would get $7 million; Anne Arundel would receive $5 million; and Howard would get $4 million.
- Allegany, Carroll, Garrett, Frederick, and Washington would get a total of $750,000.
- Calvert, Charles, and St. Mary's would receive $1.3 million.
- Eastern Shore counties would get a total of $1.3 million.
Legislative Victories – Bills MSEA Helped Pass
COLA Change We Like
HB 727 and SB 799 guaranteed that if there is ever a year of negative inflation and negative COLA, then retiree pensions should reflect a zero COLA rather than a negative. The difference will be made up in the following year.
Opportunity to Solicit Retired Members
HB 249 and SB 199 added MSEA as a permissible organization to send solicitation materials to retirees to join as a retiree organization. This is a significant step for MSEA-Retired and efforts to grow and build membership.
Discrimination Prohibited Against School Employees
HB 202 was important legislation to pass to clarify existing law in the prohibition of discrimination against any school employee (not just classroom teachers).
School Safety Task Force
HB 79 and SB 772 were passed to create a task force to study the creation of a Maryland Center for School Safety. This task force will include representation from MSEA.
Other Key Bills Passed
- Capital Budget – including $250 million in school construction (HB 71)
- Joint Committee on Transparency and Open Government Act (HB 766 and SB 644)
- Judith P. Hoyer Early Child Care and Education Enhancement Program – Report (SB 104)
Legislative Victories – Bills MSEA Helped Defeat
Defeated for another year, BOAST didn’t make it out of either Senate Budget and Tax or House Ways and Means. Our ongoing opposition and the economic environment took any possible momentum out of this effort this year. One thing we know about this bill…it will be back next session.
Ineffectiveness and Evaluations (HB 525 and SB 608)
With the work and recommendations of the Educator Effectiveness Council still pending, legislation to define “ineffective” and use it as the basis for suspension and dismissal of school employees was quickly defeated.
Financial Literacy Requirement
MSEA does not support graduation and test mandates suggested through the legislative process. We view this as outside the role of the General Assembly, which was a key reason we lobbied against and successfully defeated the development of a financial literacy curriculum as a graduation requirement. The bill passed the Senate, but was never voted on in the House committee.
Other Key Bills Defeated
- Parent Empowerment Act (SB 776)
- Require School Systems to Document Alien Students (SB 676)
- Education Funding and Average Daily Attendance (HB 26)
- De Novo Appeals of Denied Charter Applications (HB 1067)
- Charter School Hiring of Certificated Employees (HB 526 and SB 610)
Other Legislative Notes
Push for a Balanced Approach
While the passage of the alcohol tax generated $85 million more for the upcoming budget year, no other significant revenue enhancements were approved. MSEA submitted testimony and offered support for revenue measures that would have helped the state tackle the $1.4 billion deficit in a more responsible manner than just cuts in critical programs. The measures we supported included corporations paying their fair share (combined reporting), reinstating the millionaire’s surcharge, and increases in the tobacco tax and gasoline tax.
Maintenance of Effort
A last minute scramble on maintenance of effort legislation creates a new dynamic to watch as school boards and county governments will wrestle over legally mandated levels of funding. The MOE standard still clearly applies for localities anticipating increased state aid for education. But some counties may try and utilize language included in the final budget negotiations that establish the local share of foundation spending as the mandated floor for local effort. This will be an issue to continue to watch.
Child Neglect Penalties
Stay tuned to the Office of the General Counsel regarding interpretations of HB 162 and SB 178, legislation that adds mental injury to child neglect and increases the reporting requirements on school employees who observe neglect. Strengthening this penalty is a good idea, as long as educators are not the target of any overzealous prosecution or required to monitor and report daily on the mood swings of their students.
Special Session This Fall
The General Assembly will be back in September or October this year to address Congressional redistricting, at a minimum. Rumors continue to swirl about what else the governor and General Assembly may attempt to tackle, including new revenue for transportation, wind energy proposals, and even more pension changes, including a cost-share of teacher pension costs with localities.
“Legislative and political action is full of uncertainty, high points, and low points,” said Sean Johnson, MSEA’s government relations director. “We experienced them all in this legislative session, and the lows outweigh the highs this year. But, we must build off of the high points and understand that to create more high points in the future, we must build, harness, and use our organizational power. It starts with the power of the voice of an individual member who is their own best advocate on an issue that matters to him or her. It grows with a local association building voices and support around that issue. It continues to grow in identifying a legislative or political champion to carry that issue in a legislative session or on the campaign trail. Power flourishes when there is statewide momentum for an idea, an ideal, or a real leader. And when we successfully organize our voices and mobilize our megaphone, we can create awesome change that protects our jobs, our schools, our students, our families, and our union.
We must work every day to ensure we are building our union, harmonizing our collective voice, and preparing to exert power whenever needed. It might be on a local school board issue; a county council budget; a statewide referendum; or a primary and general election in 2014 --- but whenever it is, and wherever it is, we must be ready.”