By Liz Bowie, The Baltimore Sun
11:31 PM EST, February 19, 2012
Baltimore County Executive Kevin B. Kamenetz said he is seeking legislation that would combine some school system and county government functions, an effort to save money if teacher pension costs are transferred to counties.
Kamenetz is one of the few local leaders not to protest Gov. Martin O'Malley's plan to transfer a portion of the costs of teacher pensions — now entirely paid for by the state — to the counties.
The local leaders have said they would need to cut deeply into services to handle the pension costs, which are projected to rise each year. To ease the burden on counties, O'Malley has proposed a plan that would raise income taxes on the top 20 percent of earners in a way that would also provide revenue for county governments.
Kamenetz said Friday that he would put the pension costs into the school system's budget, but he hopes to build in efficiencies so that classroom spending is not affected.
"The reality is that the state is short $1 billion and the problem cannot be solved without local government help," Kamenetz said. "We have prepared for this day so we are not caught by surprise."
But the county executive did not commit to covering all of the additional pension costs, leaving open the possibility that the school system may have to make cuts to its budget.
A bill introduced this session in the Maryland General Assembly, he said, would give the county government the power to consolidate functions of government. For instance, he said, the county and the school system both have departments that handle technology and payroll that might be combined to save money.
The savings could be used to pay for the teacher pension costs. "I am not going to allow the pension shift to affect classroom funding," he said, and he held out the possibility that he might have to increase the county's contribution to the school budget. He said he is committed to continue funding at the level mandated under state law.
"We are not seeking more influence on the classroom agenda but more cooperative arrangement in running a governmental structure," he said.
But it isn't clear if those savings can be accomplished in the first year of the pension costs or how he might handle future increases. Kamenetz said he would have to evaluate the situation after the session.