How Much Do Public Pensions Really Cost Marylanders?

New interactive map compiles data from Maryland’s counties, offers clear picture of actual cost

Susan Firey May 16, 2011

(GERMANTOWN, MD) – Fights over public pensions have grabbed headlines in recent months. From Wisconsin to Indiana and beyond, cash-strapped state governments are looking for ways to shrink crippling budget deficits even as powerful unions demand return on promises made in more robust economic times. Here in Maryland, the state government pays out over $210 million per month to retired public employees. It’s a staggering number, particularly in light of the state’s equally staggering $1.6 billion budget deficit.

Defined benefit systems -- in which an employee is guaranteed a certain amount of money and a level of benefits upon retirement -- have long been abandoned by the vast majority of private employers. Yet they persist in the public sector, their growth unabated even as grim economic statistics mount at the state and federal level.

Recent national polls taken at the height of the violent protests in Wisconsin indicate that by significant margins – two to one, in some cases – Americans believe government workers should pay more for their pensions and benefits.  Harder to come by have been drilled-down numbers that tell the full story of how much public money is being spent to fund Maryland’s gold-plated defined benefit program.

To that end, the newest project of the Maryland Public Policy Institute seeks to answer that very basic, yet often elusive, question: Just how much are Marylanders actually spending – county by county – to fund public pensions and benefits?

MPPI’s Project: Pensions is an interactive map featuring painstakingly gathered data from the Comprehensive Annual Financial Reports (CAFRs) released by all 22 counties in the state.  To be sure, this is not an exhaustive analysis of the hole in which the state has dug itself at the local level. Indeed, the data therein should be taken as a conservative estimate of coming shortfalls.  But what can be gleaned from these data is this: the current level of spending on pensions and benefits is wholly unsustainable.

“For far too long, fat public pensions and benefits have been handed out like Halloween candy by political ‘leaders’ too scared to stand up to the powerful public employee unions who shepherd them into office and keep their campaign coffers full,” said MPPI President Christopher B. Summers.  “Now, with this new map, Maryland taxpayers can see how much this cowardice is costing them.”


The Maryland Public Policy Institute is a 501 (C) (3) nonpartisan public policy research and education organization that focuses on Maryland public policy issues.