The Carter administration, in the first major jawboning effort since the start of its latest anti-inflation program, yesterday called on every state to roll back salary increases for public officials who have received excessive pay hikes.
Alfred Kahn, President Carter's new anti-inflation czar, said he has sent telegrams to legislative leaders in every state urging public officials to comply with the president's 7 percent wage guideline.
The White House action was in direct response to large pay increases voted legislators last week in Ohio and Illinois. The action sets up an immediate political test of the controversial pay standard before the start of next year's major round of union contract negotiations.
"At a time when many Americans have already made sacrifices, and many more are preparing to do so, this kind of action by elected leaders of the people is irresponsible," Kahn said at a press conference.
At the same time, noting that the anti-inflation program is voluntary, Kahn conceded there isn't much he can do against public officials who refuse to go along. The most he can do, he said, is draw attention to the non-compliers.
"We will hold up to the glare of the brightest light such irresponsible behavior," he stated, adding that it would be up to voters to do whatever more must be done to keep local officials within the guidelines.
The developments came as, separately, key administration officials met privately with representatives of the nation's major oil companies and received what some sources described as a "mixed response" on the question of whether the oil firms would comply with the guidelines.
Those attending the session said that while some petroleum firms pledged cooperation, others held back, saying they wanted to study the wageprice regulations the White House is expected to issue in the next two weeks. Oil industry wage negotiations begin soon.
The Illinois legislature voted a 40 percent raise for its members and a 16 percent increase for Republican Gov. James R. Thompson last Wednesday -- over Thompson's veto.
Commissioners from Cook County, which includes Chicago, overrode 14 to 1 board President George Dunne's veto of a 28 percent raise for themselves.
Dunne said he will refuse his raise. Thompson will not.
The Ohio legislature voted a 28 percent raise for its members last week. Both Senate Majority Leader Oliver Ocasek and House Speaker Vernal Riffe defended the increase, saying they had not received a raise in four years. Gov. James A. Rhodes has not announced whether he will veto the bill.
In Providence, R.I., the city council proposed a resolution that would increase members' pay 19.1 percent. It was defended on the ground that since it's the first increase in eight years, the average increase is within Carter's guidelines. The council may act on the proposal Thursday.
Asked whether he would recommend legislation to deny federal aid to states and municipalities that refuse to comply with the guidelines, Kahn said, "I doubt we would consider this legislation instantaneously."
Kahn said he couldn't be sure how many state and local governments may not be cooperating with the program. He said the council staff has "made inquiries" in Illinois at least. Part of the problem in administering the wage and price guidelines, Kahn noted, has been keeping up with all the announced increases.
"It's deplorable that we don't even know," he said.
Recently, the Council on Wage and Price Stability has come under criticism from both inside and outside the administration as being still too loosely organized, understaffed and vague about the standards it is charged with overseeing. Senior administration officials have responded by saying that many of the criticisms spring from customary start-up pains.
In his two-paragraph telegram, Kahn wrote: "I am asking you in the strongest terms to do everything in your power to see that salary increases for officials in your state, elected or appointed, are kept within the standards of the president's antiinflation program."
Those standards limit salary increases to 7 percent in instances involving a one-year raise. In some cases, though, legislatures can raise salaries only once every four years. Here, Kahn said, the standards would limit increases to 8, 7, 7 and 6 percent.
"I call upon you to exercise responsible leadership, and in a spirit of statesmanship to commit yourselves to compliance with the president's anti-inflation program," the telegram continue. "To do otherwise is to undermine the entire program, and to neutralize the sacrifices of those people in your state and in the nation who intend to comply."