Maryland officials and Washington-area leaders are gearing up for a fight over the skyrocketing tab for teacher pensions, which threaten to overwhelm already beleaguered budgets both at the state and local levels, according to those on competing sides of the fierce debate.

The pension issue is seemingly raised as soon as lawmakers return to the State House each January. Yet, this year both county and state leaders acknowledge an unprecedented urgency surrounding the issue and expect the conflict to come to a head during the current legislative session.

Teacher pensions cost the state $1 billion a year, about two-thirds of Maryland's overall pension bill.

"From my perspective, it's just a matter of time before the pension costs get shifted back to the county," said Montgomery County Councilwoman Valerie Ervin, D-Silver Spring. "I'm one of the people who believes it's inevitable. This year in particular -- from everything I'm hearing -- it seems like it's high on the list of things in play."

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