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D.C. Council salaries are second-highest among big U.S. cities

Chairman Kwame R. Brown noted that he voted against a pay increase in 2006.
Chairman Kwame R. Brown noted that he voted against a pay increase in 2006. (Matt Mcclain)

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Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 3, 2011

D.C. Council members are the second-highest-paid big-city legislators in the nation and spend more on staff and other expenses per capita than their counterparts across the country, according to a report by the Pew Charitable Trust.

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The study, by the Pew's Philadelphia Research Initiative, spent several months compiling data from governments in 15 major cities: Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Detroit, Houston, Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Pittsburgh, San Antonio, San Diego, San Jose and the District.

For years, the six-figure salaries of D.C. Council members have been a point of contention because the positions are considered part-time and members are allowed to hold other jobs. But the Pew report, released Wednesday, is likely to renew the debate about whether council members earn their salaries: $125,583 for 12 regular members and $190,000 for Chairman Kwame R. Brown (D), $10,000 less than the mayor receives.

For the comparison with other city councils, Pew averaged the D.C. Council chairman's and other members' salaries and came up with a figure of $130,538.

The District trailed only Los Angeles, where the average council salary was $178,789, and council members in Los Angeles are considered full-time and do not hold other jobs, according to the report. New York, with a part-time council, ranked third, at $121,725.

Several D.C. Council members strongly defended their salaries, saying it is misleading to group them with council members in other cities. As the report noted, D.C. Council members say, they are both state and city legislators, which makes their jobs well worth the money.

"No other city in the country confronts the kinds of issues confronted by ours," said council member David A. Catania (I-At Large). "It's frankly absurd to compare us to other cities. Cities don't organize prison systems. Cities don't organize mental health systems. . . . Cities don't have oversight over electricity regulation. . . . We are a state, county and city all under one roof."

Council member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) was even more emphatic.

"We deserve more, quite frankly," Barry said. "This government is the most unique government of any government in the world. . . . We put in 40 or 50 hours a week in addition to constituent service. I think we are really underpaid."

But Brown appeared uncomfortable with the issue. When asked about council members' salaries, Brown, starting to walk away, said, "I voted no."

In 2006, the council voted to raise regular members' salaries to $115,000, a $22,000 increase. Brown opposed the measure, along with Kathy Patterson (D-Ward 3) and Carol Schwartz (R-At Large), both of whom have left the council.

"There was a vote on that before, and I voted no," Brown repeated as he continued to walk away.

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