Montgomery Co.’s ‘Living Wage’ for Elected Leaders

October 24, 2013

By Barry Rascovar

IT IS TOUGH being an elected official in Maryland’s largest and most sophisticated jurisdiction, Montgomery County.

Citizens there are demanding. They expected lawmakers will be super-vigilant, attentive to their needs and eagerly schedule long and long-winded public hearings on just about any bill that comes before the County Council.

But the job is rewarding, perhaps too rewarding.

Montgomery County seal

Montgomery County seal

More than any Maryland council, these solons engage in intense micro-management of government on a virtual full-time basis.

They can do this because they get a “living wage” that is the envy of other local Maryland lawmakers: $104,000 a year, which will rise over the next four years to $136,000.

That future pay level is more than the attorney general and state comptroller are paid right now. It’s more than council members in other Maryland jurisdictions receive.

In populous Baltimore County, council members take home $54,000 a year and in Baltimore city with its immense urban challenges council members are paid less than $53,000.

Apparently Montgomery’s councilmen and women are twice as good as those legislators. Or Montgomery has twice as many problems to handle.

Or they are overpaid.

Blame It On High-Cost Washington

Granted, Prince George’s County Council members also are overpaid, coming in at $102,000 a year. Council members in both Washington-area jurisdictions blame the six-figure salaries on the region’s high cost of living.

Some Montgomery solons complain that what they are paid isn’t enough to raise a young family. One councilwoman indicated serving the public merits high pay.

That’s how they justify an 8.6 percent pay hike in year one of the next Montgomery County Council’s term, 6.5 percent increases in years two and three and a further 6 percent raise in year four?

Compare that with the 3.25 percent cost of living raise given county government workers there for each of the next two years.

Apparently council members consider themselves twice as important as others in county government.

Even the Montgomery County Executive got dissed. The next executive will receive a 5.5 percent raise, to $190,000, which won’t increase for another four years. That amounts to a puny 1.125 percent annual raise over the next term.

A Council Member’s Life

There’s no question council members work exceptionally hard. It comes with election to the job.

But in every jurisdiction council members put in extremely long hours. Most of them juggle this public service with an occupation. It keeps them grounded in reality.

That’s what makes the Maryland General Assembly so effective in passing legislation while not protruding into the governor’s domain of running state government.

Delegates and senators are, by design, part-time lawmakers. They remain very much in touch with constituents nine months of the year and very much full-time lawmakers during the high-intensity, 90-day General Assembly session.

For their service, which is enormously important to the state’s well-being, each state legislator receives $43,500 a year. Lawmakers didn’t vote to raise their pay during the recession, either.

The mindset is different in the Washington suburbs, especially in Montgomery, where council pay could reach ridiculous levels in a few more terms — even though there’s scant indication the Montgomery council’s work is any better than council accomplishments in other Maryland jurisdictions.

It’s a nice deal, if you can get it — a powerful public service job with a six-figure income, courtesy of taxpayers who don’t have a say in setting these sky-high salaries.

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