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Sure, the budget’s dangerously unbalanced, House Republicans are starting to poke at us, and there’s a recession going on.
Forget all that. The good news is, the D.C. Council takes care of itself.
A recent survey by the Pew Charitable Trusts’ “Philadelphia Research Institute,” while focused (of course) on Philadelphia, ranked the District first for the amount of money spent on the Council, both in relation to number of residents and the number of council seats. Which is to say, the council devotes more of D.C.’s budget to its own care and maintenance—both per councilmember and per Washingtonian—than any other city spends per capita or per legislator. D.C. also increased spending on councilmembers more during the recession than any other city, and pays councilmembers the second-most of any city in the country.
The report, “City Councils in Philadelphia and Other Major Cities,” ranked 15 U.S. cities—specifically: Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Detroit, Houston, Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Pittsburgh, San Antonio, San Diego, San Jose and Washington.
In putting the survey together, Pew explicitly noted that it made “no attempt… to assess the political effectiveness of any council.” Pew also pointed out the D.C. Council has special added responsibilities, as “Washington is a city, county, and a state.”
Full rankings for the District were:
- Average Years in Office: With an average of 7.5 years in office for council members, the District came in sixth overall. It was fifth of all cities not having term limits, being surpassed by Philadelphia (15.5 yrs.), Chicago (13.3 yrs.), Baltimore (12.5 yrs.), and Boston (7.7 yrs.) Interestingly, Phoenix council members, despite being bound by term limits, still averaged 8.6 years in office.
- Veterans vs. First-Timers: D.C. came in fourth on this one, with only 23 percent of council members serving their first term in office. Leading the pack was Los Angeles (13% of council members), followed by Philadelphia (18 percent), and Phoenix (22 percent).
- Council Costs: The District came in first in costs in relation to both the number of city residents and the number of council seats. The council has a total budget of $19,434,000, including employee benefits—that averages out to $1,494,923 per seat, and $32.41 per resident
- Council Members’ Salaries: D.C. came in second overall of the cities surveyed. Council members are paid a salary (excluding furloughs, donated pay, or auto stipends) of $130,538. Beating D.C. was only Los Angeles, which pays its council members $178,789. However, L.A. considers its council members to be “full-time” employees, while the District’s council members are considered “part-time.” Out of only “part-time” city councils (and Pew notes the terms “part-time” and “full-time” have become mostly “irrelevant for council members”), DC came in first, though closely followed by the “part-time” council members in New York. (They get paid $121,725.)
- Proportion of African Americans on City Council: DC came in second, beaten only by Detroit, whose city council is entirely African-American. The District is 54 percent African American (based on 2009 US Census data), and 58 percent of the council is African American.
- Proportion of Hispanics on City Council: D.C. came in third from the bottom. 9 percent of the city is Hispanic, according to the 2009 census, yet no Hispanics are represented on the city council. Detroit and Pittsburgh ranked below D.C.—they don’t have any Hispanics on their councils either, but they have a smaller percentage of Hispanics in their population overall.
- Proportion of Women on City Council: D.C. ranked fourth from the bottom on female members of the city council, beating only Phoenix, Boston, and LA. 53 percent of the District is female, according to the 2009 census, yet only 25 percent of the city council seats are held by women. Doing worse than the District were Phoenix (22 percent), Boston (17 percent), and Los Angeles (13 percent).
- Spending Increases During the Recession: Only seven councils out of the cities surveyed increased spending since the recession began in Fiscal Year 2008. Of those seven, D.C. led the pack, with an 11 percent spending hike.