D.C. Council salaries are back in the news this week, with a rock-solid accountability story from the Examiner’s Liz Farmer noting who has and who hasn’t opted this year to receive the annual cost-of-living adjustments members are entitled to by law.
When the last council pay raise was passed, in late 2006, legislators thought they had for once and for all ended the politically hazardous ritual of hiking their own pay. Rather than just set a number that would have to be revisited years down the road, the bill implemented the yearly COLAs, indexed to the regional consumer price index. (The chairman’s salary remains static at $190,000, per the District charter.)
The thinking at the time: “This was as close to being nonpolitical as you could get,” said Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), who co-sponsored the pay hike bill — the first since 1999 — with Phil Mendelson (D-At Large).
But it appears the move has had the opposite effect: Rather than having to wade into the pay-hike minefield two or three times a decade, council members now have to do so yearly by choosing whether or not to waive their COLAs.
It started in 2009, when the council as a whole while cutting a recession-battered budget decided not to take their raises in fiscal 2010. They did the same the next year. But, as Farmer’s story notes, most members have again decided to take their raises for fiscal 2012, which started last Oct. 1.
So are lawmakers now regretting the decision that was supposed to depoliticize their raises? Wouldn’t it be more palatable to just suck it up and vote every four or five years on a pay-raise bill?
Evans — who is among those taking their raises this year — recognizes the unintended political headaches, but he says he likes the present system. “This way it gives everybody an individual choice whether they want to take it or not,” he said. “It just comes down to this: There’s no good way or perfect way of doing any of this stuff.”