In the face of an unfavorable opinion by the city solicitor and widespread public criticism, City Council President Mary Pat Clarke has withdrawn her proposal to raise the salaries of Baltimore City Council members by 24 percent.
The proposed raise, which would have gone into effect during fiscal year 1993, was deemed "patently invalid" by the city's top legal official because under the City Charter only the Board of Estimates has the power to determine fiscal policy and initiate salary increases.
"If the council had wanted pay raises, they should have discussed it with the mayor first," City Solicitor Neal M. Janey said.
The raises could also be illegal, Mr. Janey said, because they were proposed for fiscal year 1993, which begins in July 1992. The 1992 budget, now under review, cannot contain appropriations and income for future years.
"The solicitor told us that to get a raise we'd have to take it this coming year," said Mrs. Clarke. "And if the city employees can't get a raise then neither should we.
"The council doesn't agree on much, but we all agreed about that," she said.
The proposed raise -- which would have increased council salaries from $29,000 to $36,065 --proved difficult for Mrs. Clarke to justify in the wake of Baltimore's dreadful fiscal predicament. Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke had agreed not to take a salary increase himself, and municipal employees also accepted salary freezes for the next fiscal year to avoid layoffs.
"I think if city workers couldn't have a raise, then this raise for the council [would have been] a slap in the face to them," said Linda Prudente of the Baltimore Teachers Union. "It was just a bad public relations move."
Ms. Prudente said that the teacher's union had encouraged its members to contact their council representatives.
"I had gotten calls and letters in the mail," said Councilman Joseph T. "Jody" Landers III, D-3rd. "And at neighborhood meetings, constituents kept saying, 'I hope you don't vote for that pay raise.'
"I never believed it had a prayer of passing from the beginning."
The solicitor's legal opinion said that under the charter, the power to set the budget, including salaries, is confined to the Board of Estimates, a five-member panel of the city's top elected and appointed officials.
The opinion also said that while the City Council must review and vote on Mayor Schmoke's proposed budget, it only has the power to reduce items. The council cannot add to the budget or delete items.