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Staffers Hold Out Hope for Raises This Year

For Congressional staffers there is a glimmer of hope for a pay raise this year, even as the fiscal 2007 continuing resolution introduced this week ensured there will be no cost-of-living adjustment for lawmakers.

The modified CR crafted by House Appropriations Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.) and Senate Appropriations Chairman Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.), introduced late Monday in the House, served mainly to fund government agencies at 2006 levels. But one adjustment in the legislative branch appropriations section of the bill bumps up House and Senate office budgets by a combined $41 million this year.

Individual Members must decide whether to provide COLAs or bonuses to their own staff — but granting Senate personnel and office expense accounts an additional $11.5 million and House salary and expense accounts an additional $29.5 million this year at least makes some new money available for that purpose.

And although Members will not receive a COLA this year — unless the CR is tinkered with as it moves through the House and Senate — Member COLAs would automatically return in fiscal 2008 unless both chambers agree to an amendment specifically prohibiting it. Senate sources indicated Tuesday that a Member pay raise in 2008 probably would not be blocked, although they do expect a few Members to offer amendments to kill it, as they do every year.

Aside from funding for Member offices, Byrd and Obey made a few other “limited adjustments” to the $463.5 billion funding measure they introduced on Monday that will affect other areas of the legislative branch this fiscal year.

Recognizing the approaching opening of the new Capitol Visitor Center and the need to ramp up funding for operations as major construction on the new facility nears completion, the CR allows Architect of the Capitol officials to transfer funding between construction accounts (which were funded at almost $42 million in 2006) to operational accounts (which were funded at just $2 million during the past fiscal year).

The fiscal 2007 funding measure also more than doubles the money for the Capitol Guide Service, which is planning to triple its staff for the opening of the CVC in anticipation of a visitor increase. CVC officials have said that while the Capitol usually welcomes about 1 million visitors a year today, approximately 3 million visitors are expected to use the new facility when it finally opens.

Another legislative branch adjustment in the CR appears to stem from the recent focus on safety and health violations within the miles of underground tunnels that deliver steam, chilled water and other utility services to Congressional buildings. While the AOC actually will be receiving less funding than last year for projects to maintain Capitol Police and Library of Congress buildings, the CR boosts the funding for the Capitol Power Plant — which maintains the utility tunnel system — by a little more than $14.5 million.

That adjustment comes after last year’s emergency supplemental gave the AOC an infusion of $27.6 million to begin major overhauls to the system. Last year AOC Alan Hantman, who leaves office at the end of the week, said fixing the tunnel system would cost as much as $100 million and take several years to complete.

Other notable changes that the CR makes to 2006 appropriations levels include a decrease of $1 million for the Government Printing Office’s revolving fund and a $6.5 million increase for Capitol Police expenses.

Emily Pierce contributed to this report.

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