WASHINGTON -- Maryland's 300,000 federal workers could see an extra $700 in their paychecks next year -- a windfall from an unusual coalition of congressional Democrats and Republicans and the strange rules of the U.S. Senate.
The potential increase comes after members of the conference committee crafting a compromise on the president's economic plan agreed to put the government's new "locality pay" plan into effect on Jan. 1, 1994, instead of waiting until July 1, 1994.
The locality pay is designed to close the gap in earnings between public and private sector jobs in different regions of the country. In Maryland, federal salaries are expected to rise by 3 percent to 5 percent to begin closing the gap.
The House of Representatives had sought to delay locality pay for six months and to freeze federal salaries for a year, but those provisions were removed from the budget package last week after parliamentary wrangling by Republicans and Democratic efforts on behalf of federal workers.
The conference committee's decision raised the possibility that federal workers would receive a general 2.2 percent raise that had been scheduled for next year, based on inflation figures, plus the additional pay for workers in certain areas. But congressional officials said the fate of the general salary increase was far less certain than the locality pay.
The 2.2 percent increase would cost the government $3.1 billion next year, and no one knows where that money would come from if Congress allows the raise to go into effect.
When it returns from its monthlong August recess, Congress could decide to reinstate the one-year freeze on general salary increases in an effort to avoid sharp cutbacks in programs, layoffs or both, staff aides said.
By contrast, the change in the locality pay is "a done deal," con
gressional officials said.
The government is still calculating how much the locality pay will cost, although one House committee had earmarked $1.8 billion for next year -- before the conference committee action last week.
In Maryland, starting the extra pay six months early will produce a windfall for workers roughly calculated to be $700, based on the average federal salary in the state of about $35,000.
Under a Senate stricture named the "Byrd rule" after its author, Chairman Robert C. Byrd of the Senate Appropriations Committee, any provision that is ruled extraneous can be stripped out of reconciliation bills like the one now being shaped by the conference committee.
According to Senate aides, Republicans were eager to invoke the Byrd rule and remove the provisions affecting federal pay in an attempt to slow the budget process and throw Democrats into confusion over where to find the money. Many Democrats, meanwhile, didn't oppose the move, since they have long been supportive of federal workers, a major Democratic constituency.
Democratic Rep. Albert R. Wynn, who represents thousands of federal workers in his new 4th District, said he was worried that simply restoring the pay raises without finding the money first could result in layoffs.
"Obviously, it is a positive for federal employees in the short run," said Mr. Wynn. "But the downside is that it could lead to reductions in force as agencies try to deal with this."
Staff has already been cut from the Social Security Administration in Woodlawn, said John Gage, president of Local 1923 of the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents roughly 18,000 workers at the Social Security Administration and the nearby Health Care Financing Administration.
"We are bone dry," he said. "There is no way the agency could afford cuts."