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If you had a feeling of déjà vu reading the Washington Post’s story this week about councilmembers’ salaries and how they stack up against other legislative bodies, it’s probably because a very similar story was written in 2003 by the Washington Times.
Let’s compare: Wednesday’s story begins with the news that the District has the second highest paid legislators in the country. So does the 2003 story. Councilmember pay lags only L.A. at present, as it did back then.
Wednesday’s story has Councilmember David Catania defending the high pay. “No other city in the country confronts the kinds of issues confronted by ours … 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.”
The 2003 story has a plucky young councilmember named Adrian Fenty saying almost the exact same thing: “This council operates as a city, county and state legislative body … You take on everything from Medicaid to community policing and potholes. It’s a different job in the amount of work that needs to be done and also in the amount of time.” Catania declined to comment for the Times’ 2003 piece.
Both Catania and Fenty are right, it’s dumb to compare councilmember salaries to other jurisdictions. So how about comparing them to the past?
LL went digging in the archives to find out how much the District’s elected officials used to bring home.
It’s was tough sledding, especially with all the other stuff that’s been going on lately ’round these parts, but here’s what LL found:
A Post article in 1977 says councilmembers made $26,000 a year. Plug that into the Bureau of Labor Statistic’s handy inflation calender, and that comes out to $93,555.38-a-year in 2010 dollars (the highest year the calculator goes up to), far more less than the $125,583 they make now.
A 1982 Post story, written by none other than NBC 4’s Tom Sherwood, pegs councilmember salaries at $41,290, which comes to $93,300.85-a-year in 2010 money. So far so good, right?
But a Times story from 1994 puts the councilmembers’ salaries at $72,000-a-year, which according to the calculator would be $105,938-a-year in 2010. Creeping up, but still far below the current rate.
Back in 2006, the council voted to increase its salaries from $92,530 to $115,000-a-year. In 2010′ figures, that would be $100,082.94 and $124,387.10.
So what do these numbers mean? Well, it means that Council salaries are on the higher end of what they’ve historically been. But if they hold fast for a couple more years— and with these kind of budgets, that’s almost a certainty—they should fall closer to historical averages.
Also, in 2019, either the Post or the Times will run a story about how councilmembers’ salaries are the second highest in the nation. The question is who will be quoted: Fenty or Catania?