ANNAPOLIS – The General Assembly is trying to abolish the Board of Public Work’s oversight of top administrators’ salaries, and the board is not pleased.
The board voted 2-1 Wednesday, with Gov. Parris N. Glendening opposed, to pass a resolution urging the General Assembly to remove the offending amendment from a House bill.
Submitted by Glendening’s administration, the amendment to a catch-all House bill on state workers eliminates the board’s power to approve salaries for top state employees. The House OK’d the bill March 26, and it still needs approval by the Senate.
Treasurer Richard N. Dixon proposed the board’s resolution, with the backing of Comptroller William Donald Schaefer, saying: “I will not sit here and be part of an action that lets the camel get his nose under the tent.”
Dixon has said that the House amendment was slipped into the bill with little notice. The House Appropriations Committee offered the amendment on the House floor March 25.
Delegate Wheeler R. Baker, D-Queen Anne’s, chairman of the subcommittee that heard the bill, said state budget officials presented the amendment at an earlier hearing, although it wasn’t discussed “in depth.”
When the bill went to the House floor, the amendments were “right there for everybody to see,” he said. With little debate, the House approved the bill 137-2.
Schaefer, who sits on the three-member board with Glendening and Dixon, affirmed Dixon’s views: “We are very jealous of our power.”
But Glendening stood behind his administration’s amendment.
“I don’t think this is a big deal one way or the other,” he said.
The amendment would take away the board’s right to review the salaries of the 580 people in the state’s Executive Pay Plan. While that plan would change under the legislation, the board still would be unable to review any of their salaries, which would be limited to a dollar range set by the General Assembly.
The measure is designed to encourage top state employees to stay in the public sector and to attract new employees, Budget Secretary Frederick W. Puddester told the panel.
The bill would set the salary range for top-level Cabinet secretaries between $106,000 and $137,000.
Puddester said getting the board’s approval for a salary change is time- consuming and inefficient. It can take weeks to approve a minor salary hike, he said.
The board rarely refuses salary hikes, Dixon responded, and the board has run smoothly since it was formed 149 years ago.
“To suggest a change doesn’t make sense to me,” he said. “In my opinion, it’s unconscionable.”
“If we want to reward our employees in a quick fashion, the system is not working.”
Glendening defended his secretary saying he’s lost valuable employees to the public sector.
“The system is not very efficient,” he said. “If the Legislature’s goal is to streamline that a bit, I think that’s good.”
Schaefer said the late amendment and lack of information about it have flared the controversy.
“If you could have handled this a little more delicately, there wouldn’t have been so much trouble, he told Puddester.
The Senate Finance Committee heard the bill Tuesday, but it is unknown when it will vote on the measure.
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