October is money magic time in Washington. This is the month when this city, which measures seasons by fiscal years, turns Treasury-green.
Five of every seven adults in metro Washington will be getting some kind of pay or pension adjustment this month as a result of a nearly $5 billion increase that clicks-in for the federal/military pay and pension program. Beneficiaries range from cabinet-level superstars to government janitors. The new cash infusion is also welcomed by restaurants, parking lot owners and other merchants who live off the federal dollar.
Today marks the nation's biggest one-shot salary and annuity increase raises that directly affect about 6 million people.
More than 300,000 white-collar federal workers here will get an average 7 percent raise beginning this month. That represents a partial "catch-up-with-industry" raise. The amount was authorized by President Carter as a compromise between the 10.4 percent federal statisticians said is needed to bring government rates up to industry levels, and the 5.5 percent limit Carter originally set for 1979 federal/military raises. Most of the 50,000-plus military people here will also get the pay raise.
Today also brings a 6.9 percent (before taxes) annuity increase for retired federal, postal and military personnel. This is the second cost-of-living adjustment they have received this year. It is part of the formula calling for inflation catch-ups each 6 months. Retirees will get the larger annuity checks by mail -- or at their banks -- later this week, if not today.
White-collar federal workers -- from clerks at the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency to planners at the Pentagon -- get their raises effective the first period that begins on or after Oct. 1. For most, that means the earliest effective date for the raise is Oct. 7. It will appear in checks two weeks later.
Military personnel get the same average raise as federal civilians. Their boosts are effective today.
Capitol Hill employes are authorized the same pay raises. But it will be up to individual member-bosses, or committee chairmen, to actually set the amount.
The pay raises came about because Congress intentionally failed to veto the 7 percent figure proposed by Carter. The congressional alternative was to okay the full 10.4 percent raise. For employes who are bitter about getting only 7 percent, be advised that Carter could have set it at 5.5 percent, or zero, and Congress would have backed him up.
Postal workers are not included in the October raise. But that shouldn't trouble them much. Thanks to their current three-year contract with the U.S. Postal Service, the 600,000-plus employes have life-of-contract guarantees of no layoffs, annual raises and linkage with inflation that gives them cost-of-living adjustments every six months.
Members of Congress will also share in the miracle of October. But probably not for too long.
Automatic raises for Congress are due by law (and remember who writes the laws) in October. This month they are scheduled to receive 12.9 percent. That is because Congress is supposed to get -- by law -- the 7 percent raise today, plus the 5.5 percent, with compounding, they declined last year for political reasons. That same 12.9 percent is also due high-ranking feds frozen at $47,500. But probably not for long.
Originally, Congress intended to take a smaller raise -- to save its political hide. The House voted to limit congressional raises to 5.5 percent (members now get $57,500 in straight salary, plus some fringes that would curl your hair). But the Senate decided to play some political blackmail with the pay raise, over the wording of legislation relating to federal funds for abortions. Congress loves to link the abortion issue to federal pay or appropriations.
The result of the Senate-House tiff is that the Senate failed to approve the smaller House raise -- of 5.5 percent -- before the Sept. 30 deadline. That means our elected leaders are now due a 12.9 percent increase, something they will probably change once they read the political handwriting on the ballot boxes. The House, by the way, has taken the week off. Columbus' birthday, you know.
Odds are good the Senate and House will resolve their squabble over abortion funding as soon as the interested parties get back to town. They will probably approve a smaller raise -- of 5.5 percent -- for members of Congress. The end result will be that the lid on federal career salaries will probably rise to around $50,000, while rank-and-file salaries go up 7 percent, and the year's second annuity adjustment is set at 6.9 percent.