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Opinion

Examiner Local Editorial: Meet Washington region's nouveau riche

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Opinion,Local Editorial

If you have any lingering doubts that "public servants" employed by local governments in the Washington region have morphed into an elite ruling class, just check out the eye-popping salaries of top local officials reported by Ben Giles in Thursday's Examiner. An army of 4,555 local bureaucrats each haul in six-figure base salaries, augmented by tens of thousands of dollars worth of overtime, pension, health and other benefits.

With unemployment and poverty levels significantly higher than the national average, the District still manages to find the funds to pay 1,943 bureaucrats $100,000-plus a year, instead of keeping government overhead as low as possible to attract more employers. One of the highest-paid local officials (in a tie for first) is D.C. Administrator Allen Lew, who oversees the city's executive agencies and "set[s] operational goals" for $295,000 per year. He makes far more than the chief justice of the United States, the vice president, the speaker of the U.S. House or anyone on President Obama's Cabinet.

University of the District of Columbia President Allen Sessoms recently announced that his institution -- upon which many low- and middle-income residents rely for a college education -- will have to "right-size" by slashing programs, cutting faculty jobs and shuttering convenient community college campuses. Sessoms' $295,000 salary should be first on the list for a bit of slashing. Perhaps UDC should recruit Education Secretary Arne Duncan for the job -- he takes just $179,000 per year to run the entire U.S. Department of Education.

The same fat bureaucrat paychecks -- up to four times higher than the regional median income of $66,470 -- can be found in Northern Virginia and suburban Maryland, as well. Fairfax County Executive Edward Long takes home a base salary of $271,167 a year plus benefits (including a car allowance), and Montgomery County Chief Administrative Officer Timothy Firestine is not far behind at $266,266. Claiming budget shortfalls, both jurisdictions have repeatedly raised taxes on local residents while continuing to increase the pay and benefits of county employees.

It's important to note that these well-kept bureaucrats do not create wealth or increase the output of the local economy, as do the executives in the private sector with whom they often compare themselves. They also chose public service as a career and must have expected there would be some sacrifice involved. If you're a local taxpayer, you are paying quite a bit to be served.

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