Counties fight Maryland Gov. O’Malley on budget

WASHINGTON – The predictions from counties across Maryland were dire.

There will be fewer teachers in county schools, and as a result, the classrooms will be more crowded. County services that are already limping along on tight budgets will be crippled because of a plan to shift the cost of teacher pensions from the state to the counties.

That’s the scenario that was outlined by activists from Prince George’s to Frederick counties in the “StopTheShift” campaign orchestrated by officials in at least 11 counties.

At a Montgomery County Council briefing, Council President Roger Berliner said Governor Martin O’Malley’s plan would shift $300 million dollars from the state budget to the counties over a period of five years.

“We cannot afford $300 million dollars in additional costs,” he said.

Gino Renne, president of the Montgomery County Government Employees Organization, painted a stark picture of existing conditions thanks to three years of deep budget cuts.

“Things are unmanageable,” he said. “We see government buildings that are literally visibly crumbling…We see mechanics who are struggling to maintain a quality public transit system”.

Renne also said past budget cuts “have resulted in burning buses, lost runs and other challenges” to local transportation. Laying the cost of teacher pensions at the feet of local governments would exacerbate the situation, he said.

Steve Israel with Montgomery County Education Association said that in the first year alone, the county school system would absorb the loss of teachers it could no longer afford.

“To put a number on it, a $47 million shift would be the equivalent of an increase of three students in every single class in every single school in the county,” he said.

That would have a negative impact on the No. 1 rating Maryland schools have achieved. Even without the pension shift, schools have had to do more with less, Israel said. Over 5,000 part-time workers have seen their hours cut. Some schools no longer have guidance counselors and some have cut school library hours as a result of eliminated positions.

O’Malley has said the state’s own structural deficit of more than $1 billion required some systemic changes, including shifting the cost of teacher pensions from the state to the localities.

WTOP’s Kate Ryan contributed to this report. Follow Kate Ryan and WTOP on Twitter.

(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

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