Several of the stars of the budget in the Maryland Senate come from The Business Monthly’s circulation area in Howard and Anne Arundel counties.
“Stars” is perhaps too strong a word, since these leading players in the budget action are about as bland, low-key and without rhetorical flourish as you can get: Sen. Ed Kasemeyer, chairman of the Budget and Taxation Committee; and Sens. Jim Robey and Ed DeGrange, two of the three subcommittee chairs.
Their lack of flash and workman-like demeanors are among the keys to their success on handling a $35 billion spending plan, where an absence of drama helps smooth decisions where millions of dollars are at stake.
Kasemeyer was the vice chair of the committee before Sen. Ulysses Currie was indicted, and then became the chairman. Robey, the former Howard County executive and police chief, is trusted by Senate President Mike Miller to understand the budget and be a steady hand to help get it passed.
DeGrange, an Anne Arundel County Democrat, is a former business owner and the most fiscally conservative of the three. He chairs both the subcommittee on transportation and public safety, and the capital budget subcommittee.
DeGrange said there were “a lot of things I don’t like” in the tax measure the committee passed, but “we don’t have a lot of choices…. We do need to balance our budget for today” and into the future. DeGrange, unlike Kasemeyer and Robey, did refuse to vote for a floor amendment that raised taxes even higher for the 19,000 taxpayers who make more than $500,000 a year.
Outside of the areas they handle, rarely do the three engage in the kind of prolonged give-and-take that makes the Senate the more interesting and unpredictable of the two houses.
Kittleman Plays Budget Role, Too
Allan Kittleman, Howard County’s lone Republican senator, also played a major role in the budget debate, offering six amendments to budget bills and, according to one reporter’s counting, speaking as many as 15 times on the spending plan. Kittleman was “like a jack-in-the-box,” said Senate President Mike Miller.
Of the local senators, Kittleman is the most visible presence on the Senate floor, frequently rising in opposition to legislation he sees encroaching on private life and business. Opposing the “nanny state” is often a losing game, but sometimes Kittleman scores a point or two.
Some Tax Hikes Coming
As this is written, the General Assembly has not taken final action on the budget or the tax increases which avoid larger cuts. But it is almost certain that taxpayers who earn more than $100,000 will be paying higher personal income taxes this year. Only how much is in question.
There also will be tax hikes on cheap cigars and smokeless tobacco products, bringing them on par with cigarettes. The flush tax to pay for wastewater treatment upgrades and remove nutrients from the bay will likely double, as well.
With gasoline prices now around $4 a gallon for regular, it is nearly impossible to imagine any kind of gas tax hike passing this year, despite the governor’s backing, especially with the other tax increases helping balance the budget.
The gasoline tax of 23.5 cents per gallon has not been raised in 20 years. The longer the time period grows, the more difficult it seems to round up the majority of legislators to support the revenues everyone recognizes are needed for highway and transit projects, but no one wants to pay for.
Judges Get Major Pay Hike
Robey brought out the resolution that would give more than 250 state judges a 3% raise in each of the next three years, about $14,500 overall. District court judges who now make $127,000 will be making $141,000 in 2016.
The Judicial Compensation Commission recommended a pay hike twice that amount, saying the salaries were needed to keep attracting top talent from the private sector.
The Senate Budget Committee offset most of the judges’ raise by increasing the amount of their salaries they must all put into the pension fund from 6% to 8%. This matches the increased retirement contributions forced on other state workers and teachers last year.
Judges still will have the most generous pensions in state government. They can make two-thirds of their current pay at age 60 after just 16 years of service. By serving as visiting judges after they retire, they are also allowed to work 80 days a year and make up the other third of their salary. So judges can retire, but still work one or two days a week and earn their full pay.
Six Percent of State Employees Make Six Figures
Judges are by no means the highest paid people in state government. Last year, 5,522 state employees brought home paychecks that added up to $100,000 or more, according to MarylandReporter.com’s annual study, which is based on salary figures from the comptroller’s office. That’s about 6% of most full-time workers employed by the state and 383 more than in 2010.
Almost three-quarters of everyone making more than $100,000 were affiliated with the state’s university system. A total of 4,034 of the state’s $100,000-plus earners work at a University of Maryland campus, the University System Maryland central office or the state’s other universities and colleges.
All but two of the highest paid 25 employees work for the medical school at University of Maryland, Baltimore.
The top-paid employee is Medical School Dean Albert Reece, who is paid an annual salary of $799,547. Following Reece is Stephen Bartlett, chairman of the surgery department, who is paid $785,046. Third is Bartley Griffith, chief of University Hospital’s cardiac department, making $771,611.
Most of this high pay is due to medical research grants these doctors bring in and their high-priced charges for treating patients, in addition to their duties teaching future doctors.
A Third of State Workers Make Under $40K
If the high salaries make your blood boil, consider the flip side. About a third of the salaried full-time employees working for state government (28,391) are paid $40,000 or less.
Four agencies have average salaries of less than $40,000, including the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
In the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, many kinds of jobs that require college degrees have lower starting salaries. According to job listings posted on the Department of Budget and Management web site, alcohol and drug counselors are paid between $28,434 and $44,520. Corrections officers, who must have a high school diploma and pass an entrance exam, are paid between $35,700 and $50,563 to start.
All these state employees, both high paid and low, had their pay cut through furloughs for three years. In the budget that starts in July, they are scheduled to get a 2% increase, their first cost-of-living adjustment in years.
Len Lazarick is editor and publisher of MarylandReporter.com, a news web site on state government and politics. Visit the site for daily coverage and to sign up for a daily newsletter.