"If you take San Francisco, which is similar in size to the District of Columbia, and it's a city and a [county] it has more employes per capita than D.C. does. So I think we're in relatively good shape as far as the number of people on the payroll." -- Mayor Marion Barry, March 8, 1980, in an interview on WJLA-TV
Mayor Marion Barry has been making the San Francisco-Washington comparison to a lot of people lately.
With his city facing a possible $172 million budget deficit, and congressional critics charging that his bureaucracy is swollen out of proportion, Barry has singled out San Francisco as a way of saying that, by comparison, Washington, D.C., looks lean -- something no mauor has ever contended before.
For good reason.
The two cities are roughly comparable in population, city-county functions and land area. But a detailed analysis of the two cities' overall work forces shows that the District of Columbia employs 10,000 more workers than San Francisco, pays them better and in at least one case, gets less work in return.
To be sure, the District gets by with fewer employes in some areas. For example, the District has fewer fire-fighters than San Francisco.
But a detailed comparison between the two cities -- taking into account the difficulties of comparing any two municipalities -- shows that Washington has:
A city bureaucracy one-third larger to service a virtually identical number of residents.
Twice as many police officers, each earning an average of $3,000 more annually. (That doesn't even count thousands of uniformed federal policemen here.)
A mayor who is paid $1,500 more a year.
A mayoral staff almost equal to San Francisco's in number, but whose members each make nearly $10,000 more a year.
Fifty percent more mental health workers, who collect an average of $5,000 more each in wages annually.
A library system staffed by 100 more employes, even though the District library system circulates 1 million fewer books annually.
Barry first invoked the San Francisco comparison during a chilly noontime session last Friday with the Greater Washington Board of Trade.
"I reject the notion that there are more people to cut (in the District government)," Barry said then. He repeated the comparison in a television interview hours later that same day.
The mayor's remarks immediately rekinkled questions about the efficiency and the size of the D.C. bureaucracy -- and how it compares with that of other cities.
Rep. Charles Wilson (D-Tex.), until recently the chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee on the District, maintains that if all the city's agencies and departments are counted, tht total District of Columbia payroll balloons to 44,000.
"This may sound redneck," Wilson said, "but I've always said that since Houston has three times the population of Washington, it's not unreasonable to expect Washington to get by with twice as many employes." He said that Houston has 15,000 city workers.
The board of trade, already unhappy with Barry's call for businesses to almost exclusively shoulder a new round of taxes to solve the city's deepening financial crisis, has ordered a full-scale study of payroll bloat: Washington vs. San Francisco.
In the cold light of what he now discounts as off-the-cuff remarks, Barry described any such attempted analysis as being "as meaningful as comparing apples, oranges and grapefruits."
In separate interviews, Barry, his general assistant, Ivanhoe Donaldson, and City Administrator Elijah Rogers said that Washington's unique nature as a city, county and state prevented comparisons with any other jurisdictions that did not share this triple-governmental role.
"Assuming the number of employes in D.C. is higher, what does it prove?" Barry asked. "I think that's a false issue. The real issue is the role of the Congress in underfunding the city."
Why then did Barry decide to try to match the District against San Francisco?
Barry said he got the idea from Rogers, a former city administrator of Berkeley, Calif., just across the bay from San Francisco. Rogers recently returned from a trip to San Francisco and told the mayor that he thought the District government compared favorably with the West Coast city's government.
"If you want to jam it (Barry's comparison) down his throat, you can do that," Donaldson said. "I don't think he [Barry] was presenting a thesis," he said. "If you guys took every sentence -- as if it were etched in rock -- and make it a thesis, you would paralyze the mayor's ability to speak freely."
Any comparison of services between municipalities is, indeed, difficult. Different cities often require different expenditures to provide the same service. For instance, Washington's water supply comes from local reservoirs; San Francisco's must be piped in from hundreds of miles away.
On the other hand, convicted felons in San Francisco are dispatched to Soledad or Chino, both state prisons. The District must provide its own equivalent of a state penitentiary, at Lorton.
Moreover, San Francisco employs thousands of city workers to operate its international airport and to man its buses and trolleys. In the District, both of these services are provided by separate authorities.
Like Washington, San Francisco faces its own budget crisis and the prospect of thousands of layoffs if it does not find $119 million in extra revenue for the fiscal year beginning July 1.
Think-tank economist Phillip Dearborn, director of the Center for Municipal and Metropolitan Research, says that specific city services, such as police, fire, libraries, sanitation and others can be compared.
Friday, in response to a question from former board of trade president Oliver T. Carr Jr., Barry contended that both Washington and San Francisco employ about 30,000 city workers.
But a detailed review of employment rolls in both cities revealed that San Francisco has 30,860 workers while the District government employs 40,575, according to figures provided to Congress in January.
Of these totals, San Francisco counts 18,000 permanent employes. Add to that about 5,000 workers who are paid through federal grants and an additional 7,838 school employes.
In contrast, the District government has told Congress that 34,439 permanent employes were on the payroll in the fiscal year that ended last September. This number included school system employes. However, it did not include nearly 6,000 additional workers who are paid under federal grants.
"The total is about 40,000," city budget officer Gladys Mack said yesterday, even after reductions in the city work force since September are accounted for.
The first category compared was police. Washington has appropriated money to a police force of 4,865 officers and civilians compared to San Francisco's force of 2,424. Total salaries paid in the District are more than double the $43 million appropriated by San Francisco, not counting fringe benefits and pensions.
[However, an Urban Institute study released this month points out that police pensions in San Francisco are the highest in the nation.]
Barry, defending the size of the police force here, attributed the large numbers to the late-'60s era of law and order. "San Francisco doesn't have a police force (size) mandated by (former president) Nixon," Barry said. hActually, he said, the metropolitan police force numbers closer to 4,500 members.
But in time of trouble, Washington is also in the secure position of being able to call upon 1,166 Capitol Police officers, 800 U.S. Secret Service uniformed officers, 500 U.S. Park Police and more than 1,000 other federal uniformed police.
Washington has more police officers per citizen than any city in the United States. "The police department is too big," Donaldson said. But he added that the large force has popular support among taxpayers and members of Congress.
In fire protection, the District has 1,581 fire department workers, 100 fewer than San Francisco. The District spends $35.7 million on its fire department payroll, nearly the same as San Francisco, which spends $36.6 million.
Also, a recent internal D.C. fire department study concluded that combined rescue-and-fire crews designed to save on manpower requirements might be causing an increase in the fire-death rate in certain areas of the city.
San Francisco officials said that ever since the great earthquake of 1906, when fires ravaged the stricken city, citizens have demanded a higher level of fire protection. And the firemen's union has been a powerful political force in the city.
The size of the library systems in the two cities appears to be virtually identical. San Francisco's system supports 28 branches and 1.7 million books on the shelves. The District has 24 branches and about 2 million books.
Yet a key measure of library workload -- the number of books circulated during a year -- shows that Washington uses 100 more library employes (455 versus 337) to check out 1 million fewer books a year.
For this level of service, the District pays its librarians an average of $3,000 more each and supports an overall library budget of $10.3 million, $2 million more than San Francisco.
"I'm not an expert in libraries," Donaldson said. "I don't know the pilferage rates out there . . . It's very easy to potshot things. The differences in the libraries aren't something that would freak somebody out. The examples you pick aren't that devastating."
Street and alley cleaning in the two cities falls under different departments. In San Francisco, those duties are handled by the Department of Public Works, where 222 regular employes are supplemented by 130 temporary workers hired under the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA), for a total of 352. Washington appropriates 463 positions in its Department of Environmental Services (DES) for street cleaning. In the District, each worker makes an average of $5,000 more.
Total streetcleaning budgets for the two cities are $6.8 million in San Francisco and $8.6 million in the District. To be sure, Washington has more street miles to clean -- about 1,549 -- than San Francisco, which takes responsibility for 845 miles of streets. However, in San Francisco, neighborhood residents are required to "qualify" for street-cleaning services by chipping in to keep their thoroughfares up to a minimum cleanliness standard.
Both cities lump community mental health services into one budget category. However, D.C. outmans and outspends San Francisco for all mental health services, even if the huge, 24-hour Forest Haven facility is excluded from the comparison. The District employs 50 percent more mental health workers (612) versus (407) and pays them an average $5,000 more per person.
As for the mayor's office, Barry has 27 appropriated postions compared to 39 assigned to San Francisco Mayor Diane Feinstein. However, Barry's staff costs taxpayers more ($799,200) than the larger contingent on the West Coast ($788,810), because Barry's staff is paid an average of $10,000 more per person.
Barry is paid on annual salary of $64,210 a year while Feinstein is paid $62,709.
D.C. City Council members bank salaries more than four times greater than West Coast colleagues and require twice the number of staff members to serve them.
With the most recent pay raise that council members voted themselves, each earns from $32,000 to $37,000 a year, compared with $9,636 paid to each member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. In the District, more than 100 staff people serve 13 council members; in San Francisco, the staff numbers about half that many.
Barry has no control over the size of the City Council staff and budget. City Council members have traditionally argured that they wear two hats -- that of a state legislator and that of a city council member. They once toyed with the idea of calling themselves "senators."
In San Francisco, the job of supervisor traditionally has been considered part-time work, thus explaining the relatively low salary.
However, voters approved raising those salaries to $15,000 later this year after intense publicity surrounding the 1978 murder of Mayor George Moscone and supervisor Harvey Milk by another supervisor, Dan White. White said after the shooting that he had been despondent over not being able to stay in elected office because of his low salary.