When including the chairman's salary, the average District council member makes $130,538 on average, trailing only Los Angeles legislators, who earn $178,789. And the council members' salaries far exceed those in other major cities such as Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia and New York, the study shows.
||Highest average annual salaries for large-city council members:||1. Los Angeles: $178,789||2. District of Columbus: $130,538||3. New York: $121,725||4. Philadelphia: $121,107||5. Chicago: $109,261||6. San Jose, Calif.: $89,710||7. Boston: $87,500||8. San Diego: $75,096||9. Detroit: $73,595||10. Baltimore: $63,178||Source: The Pew Charitable Trust's Philadelphia Research Initiative|
But D.C. officials were not apologetic for their generous compensation packages.
"This is not news," said at-large Councilman Michael Brown. "It's appropriate. We have three different functions: the state, county and city functions. Other cities don't have those functions."
The District has the second-highest budget per council seat, behind Los Angeles, at $1.49 million, and spends $32.40 per resident, which is more than twice as much as any other city, the Pew figures show.
The report attributed the higher costs to the fact that D.C. "serves as a city, county and state." The federal government runs the city's court system and the U.S. Attorney's Office prosecutes the majority of crimes committed in D.C.
Council members' six-figure salaries have been a lightning rod in a city that has piled up massive deficits -- and criticism will likely intensify with the District facing a $545 million shortfall next fiscal year.
"It strikes me as absurd that City Council members make that much, particularly when decade after decade they have severe management problems," said Chris Edwards, director of tax policy studies at the Cato Institute. "It is true that they have some state functions, but on the other hand, they benefit from enormous federal services and all these different agencies that should help them save money."
The D.C. Council also has eight summer weeks off and its members are allowed to take other jobs.
By comparison, Montgomery County Council members earn $94,351 annually, Prince George's County Council members, $96,417 -- the chairman makes $101,417 -- and Fairfax County supervisors, $75,000. Each body serves a far larger population than the District's.
"I think [the salary] is the right amount," said Ward 2 Councilman Jack Evans. "Someone in the private sector with those types of responsibilities would be making much more. We set the salary a number of years ago and we believed at the time it was the correct salary for the responsibilities the job has."
Patrick Mara, a Republican who is running in a special election to fill at at-large council seat, called the council salaries "disgraceful" and pledged to reduce them if elected.
"In these tough economic times, the D.C. Council needs to tighten its belt just as citizens of the District are doing the same," Mara said.