The city's elected officials, who have gone five years without any salary increases, will have to wait another three years before they can even be considered for a pay raise.
Baltimore City Councilman Robert W. Curran yesterday abandoned his attempt to introduce legislation seeking 6 percent raises for the city's elected officials. He blamed "unsettling" and "degrading" public criticism for leading him to kill the bill in committee yesterday.
During a City Hall hearing of the council's Judiciary and Legislative Investigations Committee, Curran delivered a stern speech that chastised critics for misunderstanding the process. Only an outgoing council can pass pay raises, with the mayor's signature, for incoming officials after an election. The last raise followed the 1999 election. Now the mayor, comptroller, council president and the 14-member council must wait until the next election in 2007.
"I can only hope in the future that the process for salary increases for elective officials in Baltimore City will be changed from its current archaic procedure," Curran said.
Council President Sheila Dixon proposed to do just that. She said in an interview before the hearing that she intends to introduce legislation next month to place a charter amendment on the 2007 ballot to create a wage commission that could independently recommend pay raises.
"So the next group will not have to face pushing their own pay raises," Dixon said.
Several union members initially took issue with the raise because of the generous increase in salaries approved five years ago. The two firefighting union leaders appeared yesterday in support of the bill.
In December 1999, the departing council approved raises ranging from 23 percent to 32 percent, which benefited the current council, as well as Dixon, Comptroller Joan Pratt and Mayor Martin O'Malley.
In 1999, council members' annual salaries rose 30 percent, from $37,000 to $48,000. The council vice president's pay increased 28 percent, from $39,000 to $50,000. The pay for the council president and comptroller rose 23 percent, from $65,000 to $80,000. The mayor's pay jumped 32 percent, from $95,000 to $125,000.
If the 6 percent pay raises had moved forward, they would have come less than six months after the mayor and council approved $30 million in increased telephone, energy and real estate taxes as part of the city's $2.1 billion budget.
With the council shrinking in size by four members, Curran said the subsequent savings more than covered the raises.
The two fire union officials at the meeting yesterday said they supported the raises because it would be eight years before the elected officials received pay increases.
Richard G. Schluderberg, president of the Baltimore City Fire Fighters Local 734, said yesterday that he would have supported the bill if the council structured it to provide 2 percent raises in each of the next three years.
"They do need to look at how the process works," Schluderberg said. "The way it's currently structured is like the fox guarding the henhouse."
Schluderberg had said that it would take a firefighter 15 years to earn the $50,000 salary that was being proposed for council members.
Curran said the raises were never meant to denigrate firefighters or other city workers, but that public criticism had denigrated the council.
"There are those who state that the City Council by requesting this increase in salary is denying our school children needed supplies to be successful in their learning process," Curran said.
"There are those who state that the money for the raises would be better spent if used for cable access needs," he continued, "and there are those who state that the council should not receive a raise until all vacant houses are boarded up."
He said criticism through e-mails and letters was racist toward the majority African-American council and ethnically bigoted against his own Irish heritage. "The action I am taking today, as the lead sponsor of [the bill] will be to silence those particular voices of ignorance," he said.
Councilwoman Helen L. Holton said pulling the bill was the best decision because of the city's tight budget.