WASHINGTON -- The average paycheck for workers in Baltimore-area federal offices would rise 3 percent next year under a bill approved yesterday by the House Appropriations Committee.
The proposed raise for the 1995 fiscal year -- equaling at least $1,130 for the average federal worker in the Baltimore area -- exceeds what President Clinton proposed in his budget but is less than what federal workers say they are entitled to under a 1990 federal law. And it falls below the raises that Congress granted federal workers for this fiscal year, which equaled 4.23 percent for Baltimore-area workers.
"We're all pulling in and tightening our belts," Rep. Steny H. Hoyer told the House Appropriations Committee, which yesterday passed the Maryland Democrat's pay-raise compromise. "It's a very tight atmosphere."
Mr. Hoyer's proposal would provide a pay raise of 2 percent for all federal workers nationally, plus a slight increase in locality pay.
Locality pay is intended to gradually close the gap between federal and private-sector wages and varies from area to area. Under Mr. Hoyer's proposal, Baltimore-area federal workers would receive a locality pay increase of about 1 percent.
Next year's federal salaries are the subject of some debate among the Clinton administration, Congress and the unions representing federal workers.
President Clinton had suggested that Congress enact a national pay raise of 1.6 percent, with no locality pay. Federal workers say they are entitled to an increase of 2.6 percent, plus a locality adjustment twice the amount suggested by Mr. Hoyer.
"It's too early to try to say, 'This is a victory' or 'This is not a victory' or 'We're willing to compromise,' " said Diane Witiak, a spokeswoman for the American Federation of Government Employees.
During the Bush administration, Congress enacted a law guaranteeing that federal employees' pay gradually would reach parity with private-sector pay. Unions estimate that there is a 30 percent gap between the salaries of federal and private-sector workers.
But the Appropriations Committee basically supplanted that law yesterday with its own pay-raise mandates, said James Hegarty, legislative assistant with the Federal Government Service Task Force, a congressional group that develops federal worker legislation. With so little money to spare, he said, federal workers were lucky to get any pay raise at all.
"This is a victory for Hoyer in the sense that he got federal employees considerably more than what the president requested," Mr. Hegarty said. "And Hoyer had to negotiate to get this -- this is not something that passed through without resistance."
Mr. Hoyer hammered out the compromise after recent meetings with Leon E. Panetta, Mr. Clinton's budget director, and Rep. David R. Obey, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.
A year ago, average pay for a federal white-collar worker in the Baltimore area was $37,926, according to the Office of Personnel Management. By factoring in the national pay raise and Baltimore's share of the locality pay increase -- which totals about 3 percent -- the average salary boost would amount to about $1,130.
The issue probably won't simmer down in the near future. The full House is likely to take up the pay raise in mid-June. More argument is expected in the Senate.
A spokeswoman for Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski said that the Maryland Democrat may try to salvage more money when the pay raise issue reaches the Senate Appropriations Committee. Ms. Mikulski sits on that panel.
"In terms of what the mood is in the Senate, it's obviously going to be tough to find the funding for it," said Erin Callahan, a spokeswoman for Ms. Mikulski. "But we would be requesting full locality and full inflationary pay raises."
Other lawmakers worry that the pay raise could come at a cost, mainly in jobs.