August 3rd 2017
In Baltimore County, we get things done when we work together -- improving our schools, making our neighborhoods safer, and growing our economy so it works for all of us. It’s the kind of change I’ve been working for my whole life, from serving on the PTA, to launching my first grassroots campaign for public office. Huddled around my dining room table that summer, we were determined to bring community activism into the halls of government, to hold government accountable so it serves the people, not the powerful few.
As I travel around the county talking with people from all walks of life, it’s clear we have exciting opportunities ahead of us if we work even harder, together. Baltimore County families deserve a government that works as hard as they do. That means holding public officials accountable when it comes to taxpayer dollars and getting county government’s fiscal house in order.
Retirement after a lifetime of hard work is common sense. But it is unfair to taxpayers when top-ranking officials double-dip – receiving huge payouts when they leave government, on top of their pensions or receiving a second pension when they return to county government. Some of these double-dipping severance lump-sum payouts will reach over $300,000 – above and beyond regular retirement benefits (and even before retirement). Worse, the amount of these payouts is essentially discretionary, with some officials granted larger payments than others with similar service.
This system isn’t fair to Baltimore County taxpayers or Baltimore County employees. It’s not right. And it’s got to stop, right now. That is why I am introducing legislation to reform the county’s pension system -- to restore the people’s trust.
That the current pension system operates outside public view, and with little in the way of accountability, further compounds these problems. Sunlight, it has been said, is the best disinfectant and it is hard to imagine that this scheme would be allowed to operate if it were on full display to taxpayers. We must eliminate any opportunity for corruption, fraud, or even the appearance of violation of the public trust.
What’s more, the current system has never been fully reviewed by the County Council and is on shaky legal ground. This is all the more reason, I believe, for the council to speak with a clear voice and fix this critical issue.
For me, this reform legislation is in many ways part of my ongoing commitment to more openness and transparency in government. It’s why I’ve fought to broadcast our council work sessions online, so taxpayers can see how the people representing them are making decisions. It’s why we needed and I championed campaign finance reform, including a ban on campaign contributions during the zoning process that takes place every four years. And it’s why next week, I will be introducing pension reform legislation that will end this unfair and wasteful practice. Baltimore County families deserve to see it repealed.
Baltimore county employees work hard and deserve to be compensated as such. They work hard to make Baltimore County an even better place to live, work, and raise a family. They are a critical part of what makes our Baltimore County communities so special. But the current practice of double-dipping lump sum payments by some high-ranking officials is not just wasteful, it betrays the public trust.
If we get the basics of government right, especially accountability and transparency, we can come together and take advantage of the opportunities on the horizon for stronger communities and stronger growth. We can have the kind of economic development that supports all of our families. We can have strong schools that prepare our kids for the future. We can have safer neighborhoods, greater parks and public spaces that improve the quality of life for everyone in Baltimore County.
Pension reform is fundamentally about getting the basics right in county government. We have an obligation to be more efficient and effective with taxpayer dollars – an obligation that covers everything from better snow removal and trash pickup on the streets, to more responsible management and spending in the Council and Executive’s office.
In many ways, it starts with having a higher standard for Baltimore County government, and this legislation is an important step towards pension reform that prevents waste, fraud, and double-dipping, restoring people’s trust.